for now, CTR obsessions

CTR wrapup


After Blackhawk descent (courtesy of Scott Morris)

After Blackhawk descent (courtesy of Scott Morris)

The CTR is not a bike race. If you mention casually to your 40 year old co-worker who doesn’t get out and exercise much that you’re doing a bike race, it paints the wrong picture. Sleep-deprivation adventure race is more accurate, but still, the amount of explanation needed to include the relevant details, leaves me not wanting to talk about it with anyone except those in the know. It’s not that I’m offended when the lay person doesn’t instantly become impressed with what I’m attempting to accomplish, but in fact the opposite. What I’m doing, what I’ve done, isn’t for anyone but myself. It’s not a race result that Specialized wants to sponsor me for or something that’s covered in Velonews. The roadies probably think it’s a stupid, boring race for people that have no speed and just want to excel at something so obscure that only a handful of people try it. I likewise think their time hunkered down in a time trial position with a dimpled one piece kit is stupid. The CTR just isn’t the race you do to impress a wide audience because even your friends and family don’t know what goes on on that trail.

The CTR is what you want it to be – race, race/tour, wilderness therapy, sleep deprivation experimenting, a form of ayahuasca. For me, it’s about never seeing the same place twice. This isn’t a 24 hour loop race but a big point to point adventure. It’s about riding into the night and then watching the sun come up with barely any sleep. It’s racing, but my goal is just to keep moving. It’s enjoying the hike-a-bike because walking is easy. It’s fitting weeks worth of beauty into just a few days. It’s riding so many miles of good singletrack that you vow you’ll make seeing places like this a priority. It’s also about evaluating the path you’re on in life and altering it as needed. It’s about pushing your body because nothing else tests it in this way. It’s about meeting other people who have somehow decided to focus their energy on the same thing. It’s really whatever you make it, so no, it’s not just a bike race.

This year was simple. The goal was to keep moving, don’t get sick, and sleep when you can’t ride. Simple goal. I achieved the goal. My time was pretty fast and I was pretty happy out there.

I slept a total of just over 7 hours and pedaled for 85.

The highlights were all the great descending after Indian ridge and on into Silverton where I was fresh enough to justify really letting off the brakes. There was climbing Stony Pass as the sun set with Jerry Oliver just ahead, Neil Beltchenko behind, and the world about to get very cold quickly. I enjoyed feeling like Coneys was all descending. I met apple and enjoyed him telling how Jefe didn’t stop. Riding from tank 7 to hwy 50 at night was a blast, hike-a-bike and all. Cooling off in the Arkansas River just north of Buena Vista is my tradition. I thought it must have been 90+ degrees but after being in the water realized it wasn’t that bad. The aspens on the singletrack before Leadville were a total treat. Searle and Kokomo in am light and chill was just barely spectacular enough for me to ignore my hurting wrists. The thunderstorm east hwy 9 reminded me that weather makes things beautiful. The “where are we going feeling” of new terrain and views of South Park after Kenosha pass rank up there. Even so groggy, I loved the morning view of burn and finally the smooth, smooth, smooth last sec  3, 2, 1, knowing I was going hold it together.

The bitterness to the sweetness is you are only a CTR virgin and bikepacking virgin once. I think I forgot this, and while I wanted to be completely blown away by the experience, I wasn’t because it wasn’t new. Expectations were too high I guess and I rode with a slight melancholy and a jaded perspective. Soon after the race I thought about some of the monumental “firsts” in my life and remembered how the sequel could never stack up to the original. It’s not that I was over it, but maybe I needed to skip a year on the CTR and ride the AZT300 – a new and shorter event. Maybe I just needed the company of another rider and all the pushing on solo wasn’t the experience I was looking for.

There’s no doubt I’ll race this again and even as I write this, a couple of weeks after finishing, my mind is chasing the drug once again, all negative experience washed from memory and the positive ones holding strong.

This years' setup

This years’ setup




Great lights

This was my immediate reaction just a day after the race.

Lots of time to reflect while riding the lonely CTR this year. I’ll eventually write a blog but wanted to share a few things (now turned into many). Unfortunately I feel there’s more of a negative tone than positive.

– Lots of respect and admiration is usually given to the fast people and it’s assumed that suffering and going faster form a pretty linear relationship. Last year I suffered immensely because of a bad stomach, eating and drinking difficulties the whole race. This year I knew I had solved some problems, would suffer far less, and ride much faster. All of that came true. Riding slower=riding faster. Riding even faster would not involve more suffering as the first step. I’d work on eating more. Just because you’re making yourself hurt doesn’t mean you’re going your fastest.

– About 2 days into the race I forgot how long it is. It’s hard to quit anything for me, even if it’s for the right reason. I knew I didn’t need to wear myself out. I’ve had trouble getting the sleep I need for a few months now. I know if I had quit for the reason of not wanting to wear myself out, I could have lived with it. I’ve seen the trail already. The CTR was not feeding my soul and knew it wouldn’t give me a boost afterwards. I would have done something good for myself, one of those hard but BIG choices, and that’s not something to regret. I stayed in probably because I didn’t feel like answering questions about it.

– I became an expert trail tracker and knew when Jefe was leading and Jesse was. On the final climb, I knew unless Jefe was passed on the descent, he had won yet again. Jefe, you thought you were second? You have to know what a racing ralph (2.4?) looks like by now.? No? That must be because you were leading most of the time? haha

– I followed the tracks of Jefe and Jesse from Kenosha, through the Taryall detour. I thought of what the two must be going through actually racing each other. I found a gel wrapper. I noticed tire tracks pulling off and then back on again. It helped create the story of two people battling in the night, minutes apart, each one trying not it let it all fall apart. I felt like I had it much easier, knowing they were hours ahead and confident no one was close behind. The wet soft sand seemed to suck all the power out of my legs.

– I feel like a became a better rider on the CTR. I’ve ridden for years and bike handling is my strength but somehow, even when I was fatigued I rode lines cleaner and smoother than I could expected, like a no hesitation night descent off the top of Fooses Creek.

– I was close to running out of food at the end. I hate always carrying so much extra food. I’m always a safe instead of sorry person so I took a little more risk, but also bought more sweets and snacks in Leadville. The Taryall detour was about 5 hours longer than I thought. 200 calories per hour soon became 100 but luckily by the end the body burns fat so well. I saved a bit of food for the last singletrack and the climb out of the Platte.  Once north of hwy 9 I realized my mistake but made the choice I wouldn’t accept any food if offered or take any from a trail angle box. The reason being is that it would significantly help me and I had to live with the decision I’d made in Leadville. I took a gatorade at apple’s tent and an applesauce at hwy 50. The difference being that I didn’t need the food or drink, I was fine on my own. Sure enough, I got offered and had to explain myself.

– My sleep program I would call the all natural sleep deprivation program. I slept about 7.5 hours total but never set an alarm. The bugs were pretty bad when it was warm but sleeping when it is cold, is well, cold. I don’t believe in 5 hr energy of other massive caffeine sources to prolong staying away. I wanted to stay safe without the spot. When I felt like I’m dosing off while hiking or riding, it’s time to get some rest. The last night I took a one hour nap but couldn’t make it past 3:30. I tried hard because maybe if I made it until sun up, I wouldn’t need the sleep but I had to succumb to another 2 hour nap.

– I had trouble with motivation on the Taryall construction  segment. I slept next to a tree for an hour. I got up with more motivation and in my dream we (all sleeping under the tree) solved the motivation problem of the construction workers. Win , win for everyone. I think I even said bye to them when I left.

-One of the most beautiful moments was riding through the burn area at the break of dawn with everything lush and wet. I wasn’t blown away by beauty as much as last year. Good weather is more boring than powerful storms.

– Wildest thought. On the 5th day I had a thought about my job and where I worked. It seemed so foreign and distant and could have been years ago. I suddenly became aware that I was a person (or had been) beyond someone just trying to survive on the CTR.

– Best comment. “You’re training for Leadville, aren’t you.”

– Interesting conversation with a large group scurrying to get their bikes off the trail as I passed. “Those are camera bags, aren’t they” I decided not to correct the woman. “You look like an expert, can you tell me if her tire pressure is too high?” “It’s really a preference thing.” “Well how would she know?” I squeeze the tire and said, “yeah it’s too high.” A guy comes in saying “won’t higher tire pressure help her get over roots better.” “No, that’s not how it works.” No elaboration on my part. They start to talk among them themselves and not about to get drawn into the process of adjusting her tire pressure, let it be known that, “I really have to go”. Sort of dick on my part. But I never care much for the Doctor/Lawyer types with $10K bikes that are still working on common sense 101.

– Did I hallucinate? Descending the last descent, but before the small uphill into waterton, was there not an american flag and a carriage of belongings that looked like a homeless man pushed up? That would be the only real hallucination. Everything else was just things in nature that as you get closer is just a stump or tree.

– I regret not having the spot for the people that wanted to watch it. The CTR didn’t involve family at all this year. I didn’t really anticipate how much they’d be into it. The spot is just one more thing to mount, feed batteries, etc, and with my work and lack of work I had to save the money as well.  I was trying to remove myself from getting caught up in what other riders were doing. No cell phone either. I couldn’t get away from the helpful hikers relaying incorrect gaps to the next rider. One told me Jesse and Jefe were way ahead of me. I must of seemed uninterested because he said, “seriously, those guys are way the hell ahead of you”. I don’t know what he wanted me to do or say.

– A couple of days into the ride the biggest revelation I had, for the whole trip for that matter, was that I love descending so much and I’ve wanted a trail bike for a while, that I could make this happen not by waiting another year but by selling my road bike. It’s something I’ll lat east consider. This ride continued to increase my love of mountain biking.

3 thoughts on “CTR wrapup

  1. Hi Mattshiff,
    your writing is inspiring. I rode half of the CT this summer as a tour. I will do the whole thing in 2014 but wonder if someone like me, planning on finishing in 14 days, should just ride a solo ITT. I’d like to join the group start and really do the CTR, but I’m just slower than most. Do 14 day folks get in the way or do the CTR regulars like the extra “pack fodder”

    congrats on a great race

    • Steve, this is certainly not a typical race so there is not a chance of getting in the way. It’s really up to you whether you want to be primarily alone or among other people. You could start earlier than the group, get to meet many people that pass you, and probably do better than you think. That’s what I’d do.

  2. “Did I hallucinate? Descending the last descent, but before the small uphill into waterton, was there not an american flag and a carriage of belongings that looked like a homeless man pushed up?”

    That was there! I saw it 2 days after you, and it it really confused me.

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