From what I hear, dogs in China get no love or at least not the way they do here in the states. Dogs are kept around for entertainment for the kids, to eat mice or rats (for the adults), and to be eaten themselves if other protein are scarce. They are animals, not family, so really they get no love. Picture a small cramped house, a stead cold rain, and a skinny dog outside shivering to stay warm. That’s what it means to be a dog in China.
That’s not me I told myself when considering another CTr ride. There will be no self deprecating behavior, verbal lashings, or mental kicks in the gut to toughen up, go faster, or stay awake longer. Nope, I’m not going treat myself like shit. I’m going to be like a dog in the U.S. I’ll get treats when I don’t deserve them, water when I’m licking my lips, breaks when I barely have to pee, a warm bag to sleep in at night, and big fat meals that include meat when I can purchase them… Or something like all of that. The point being, the typical direction this bikepacking thing tends to head, especially with veterans of this race, includes more painful sacrifice in pursuit of faster times. While I loved the idea of it all – the race, the suffering, and the bystanders’ love of suffering – I couldn’t do it that way. Not this year at least.
That’s why I mulled over doing the CTr and didn’t commit. I didn’t know if I could work with a new mindset. I didn’t think I could believe in a new mindset. Could I race and not kill my body? Could I race and not hate it the entire time? Could I call it racing and not give 100%? These questions took some time to answer and then some time to believe in those answers.
- Yes, I can do this and not leave permanent physical damage but I also have to be ready to drop if need be.
- Maybe I can learn to better love the moment of being out there but it might involve adjusting my pace and not focusing on what anyone else is doing. In the end, I have to love it or I’m done with this bikepack racing.
- Of course I can race and feel okay about giving less than 100%. 100% is an absolute maximum. There is not 101%. Almost no one gives 100% for anything, let alone a 4+ day effort. Being at your absolute maximum is walking the perfect line through a mindfield. It’s riding a downhill course lined with barbed wire fence. It’s straddling a pencil ridgeline with death to the left and death to the right. Yeah, I can do without that 100% mindset.
So I jumped in this year and surprised my family and friends and said to them, “this year will be different… or else I’ll have to stick it out, suffer and hate it, and finally learn my lesson.” With all the gear from two years before, it took a weekend to assess, order a few parts, and obsessively check it all out. I had time off, a ride down to Durango, good fitness, good rest, a good mindset, and good competition – basically no good excuses.
The first day was the hardest without a doubt. There used to be a time when my edge was being at altitude, but lately it’s been a shock to the body. I took it slow but probably didn’t eat and drink enough in the first few hours. By Indian Ridge I had a headache and I was only getting sleepier.
The trail was packed with people up high, but I swear, I was one of the most courteous people. I was not the person who chased a woman’s dog uphill for ½ mile, nor was I a jerk to the guided riders who immediately yielded the trail to me knowing I was in the race. But I’m sure people were just tired of seeing bikers just as I was tired, by the end of this ride for sure, of seeing hikers with their mouths open, smelling worse than me, with their minds even mushier, trying to “find themselves” out on the trail and solve all their life problems maybe because they read a book or watched a certain movie in the past year. We each have to tolerate a little so we can all play in the high country because the trail is really becoming that packed.
At the Silverton store I felt none of the wild and enthusiastic emotion of two years ago. I was beat. I got my food, counted the calories up, and sat down and ate some sandwiches. I wondered if it would only get harder. The altitude was just killing me.
I wanted to camp right before the Coneys section starts, at the lake (there is no lake there), but I felt I had to be open to other ideas as well. The thought of camping at 12,500 ft or above just didn’t sit well with me, nor did the thought of camping early before the top of Stony Pass. I pushed and pedaled and enjoyed the night which was maybe 10 degrees warmer than I’d ever experienced up there. It was a game of flashlight tag as either Kurt or Sam, or both of them, were always a ridge ahead and Jefe a ridge behind me. Before I knew it, earlier than I expected, I had reached the start of Coneys, and in the darkness where I imagine there a lake to be, I spread out my stuff and got some sleep. Sleep comes easy to me but staying asleep does not. I slept probably three one hour naps and each time I saw no daylight I tried to go back to bed.
By the time I got up it wasn’t fully dark and I saw two lights. Jefe? Sam? Kurt? But not Jessie I would imagine. I started with my typical warm up of out of the saddle riding. Somehow if you get your skin to warm up, sitting back down on the saddle isn’t quite as bad. It’s a process of easing into it once again. I focused on eating, drinking, and not pushing too hard at this altitude yet. Riding it this direction, Coneys involves much less hike-a-bike than Cateracts and some good descending. Soon I was at Spring Creek.
After my first year of riding this course I stopped thinking too much about the terrain in front of me. I certainly look forward to the great rideable sections of trail, but I’m fine with the hiking, and really like the hiking at night. The CTr is more of an obstacle course, some cycling variation of ninja warrior and I just love playing the game. So with getting to Spring Creek it was like, BAM!, level 1 complete.
I met up with Sam at the watering hole. He had been there 30 minutes but had arrived with Kurt and Jefe and said they weren’t moving too quick. After getting some water I took off but soon realized what his idea of quick moving looked like. It seemed like he was close to doubling my pace heading up to Slumgullion pass but I think he was working harder too, so different strategy than me. In the past, hard efforts didn’t seem worth it to me. I have to eat more and I think I pay for it later. It also really hurts!
After following the lines on my GPS I caught Jefe who was moving slow up Los Pinos pass. Somewhere inbetween I’d missed Kurt and Sam so we pondered the mystery for a bit. We were in eyesight of each other until about Hwy 149, were the trail provides more motivation to grind on up it. I felt relatively rested and felt motivated to push until at least hwy 50 or 3am, whichever came first.
Other than a stiff breeze on the Crest trail before Fooses, the weather remained balmy and no energy was wasted staying warm. Several things would remain lodged in my mind – vague memories of splits from two years ago and suffering I endured getting through this section in the opposite direction my first year. That year I made it just past the turn off to silver creek and camped for 8 hours in the middle of the day to let my nauseousness wear off. I restarted at 8pm and had a great time getting through Sargents at night. This year, there was a fire burning where I had camped and a dude and dirt bike. It turned out to be Chris Miller, putting in some adventure time to get the photos. It was good to see him, and in fact, everyone I saw out there was supportive in good fashion.
With warm temperatures and no bugs I surprisingly didn’t sleep that well. It was probably before 5am when I woke up but I deemed it too dark to start riding. Maybe I would quickly go back to sleep but that was wishful thinking. Getting up in the dark is my weakness. By the time I took care of all my business it was light enough to ride without a light.
The riding I did on day three was not boring but fairly uneventful. That’s the nature of riding from south to north – each day tends to get a bit easier. Instead of anything particular that tested me physically, I have memories of the wildflowers and aspens between BV and Leadville, an image of a massive mushroom thunder cloud lit bright by a setting sun heading into Leadville, and plodding up to Kokomo pass as the through hikers were sound asleep in their tents just off the trail.
I pushed a little longer than I wanted to – 4am – but that meant there was slim chance of getting up in the dark. Before going to bed I assessed my sore throat, runny nose, and fleet of blisters growing in my mouth. Was this normal third day sunny and dry weather breakdown of the body or was I getting sick? If I was sick the next day would I push forward for just one last day or call it?
Day 4 and beyond
There was no dilemma about pushing on when I woke. My sore throat was better, my tongue no longer felt like I’d been sucking the sour off the patch kids, and I had about the same energy as the morning before. Bright and early, 6:45ish, I pushed off for what I hoped to be smooth sailing into Denver.
Feeling a little hungrier each day, I had to employ a new fueling strategy of stopping every 3 hours to eat about as much as I had an appetite for. The main course was Taquitos wrapped in a layer of salami – a different twist to the gas station frozen burritos. I also snacked on red vines and fruit rollups since I was feeling the sugar craving more than usual.
Fast forward quite a few hours and it’s 8:30 pm and I’ve just walked into the Stagestop Saloon. Everyone stares at me and I’m not sure who to talk to. This is sort of thing I was afraid of two years ago that prevented me from stopping when I was low on food. Quickly someone summoned Pat who took me next door to the store where I bought about $18 worth of junk food that would surely be enough. I didn’t know what to expect, but hours earlier, in my mind, I’d already ordered a burger that had bacon and avocado if available, a pulled pork sandwich, and maybe a blt or something packable for the road. I tried not to dwell on it and the packaged pastries actually tasted pretty good. The quick rest and Dr. Pepper helped me regain my mind a bit but I was still unsure where Pat said the water was and where to throw out my trash. I was at the point of being fine in the woods and bewildered by conversation and people. I remember how Pat kept saying that Jesse looked so good, as if they chatted about the wife and kids, politics and sports, and Jesse’s lucidness and witty banter would have fooled any cop into thinking he hadn’t had a drink all day. I pictured Jesse not even letting out a yawn, but why would he; he’d been there 7 hours earlier at 1:30 in the afternoon!
Two years ago, the final section that lay in front of me was a struggle. Just like today it had rained and turned the sandy roads into a tire sucking sponge but add to the equation my lack of sleep and lack of food, and I limped home but only after two naps. This year was different, starting with another dozen miles of paved road instead of a construction zone, a full moon that tricked me into believing night riding is more fun than day riding, and a small reservoir of energy that I pictured would carry me through the night.
I can’t say I was putting out a ton of watts, but I kept it steady and the bike stayed on the road and trail. I climbed under the moonlight followed by more than my fair share of descents. A warm wind sometimes pushed me along and other times slapped me in the face. I remember how dreadful this whole section was two years ago but this year is was friendly, mellow terrain.
I reached the junction with the Colorado Trail and tried not to do too much math but it was inevitable. If this next section takes me 5 hours, what will my time be? How long did it take me in 2013? Even though it’s dark, I’m faster this year, right? Can I push harder or will I be bonking and puking up my junk food?
I struggled a little just before the sun came up but I had some caffeine and knew I would make the push to sunrise. At about 5:30 the sky turned lighter and I entered the burn area that precedes the descent to the Platte. I switched my light off for the final time and enjoyed the smooth marbly surface, my tires slicing through it like skis on firm snow.
As memory often forgets about the details inbetween the landmarks, everything kept taking longer than expected to finish this thing out. I was experiencing this conflict of trying to enjoy some of the best section of trail and also knowing that I was ready to stop, sleep, and be done. My mind kept calculating my eta, always being optimistic, and I told myself to stop ruining it for myself. The concerns of how I compared to previous years’ times and Jesse’s time of this year wouldn’t leave my mind but I told myself not to ruin the end of a great ride with this negative mindset. I finally let it be.
After leaving gallons of stomach gas in each corner of the trail, cranking the brakes on the downhills with little modulation, endoing over the bike into the bushes with little fight to stop it, and basically just being that guy that people are starting to stare at, (I guess I’m supposed to respond when people talk to me?) I wove my way through the last few miles of singletrack and out onto the service road.
I passed joggers, casual cyclists, bike packers just heading out, and thru hikers, and the reality of civilization was setting in. Also, the reality of what a crazy pursuit the CTr is. It seems a little ridiculous, a little reckless, and maybe something that exists in a parallel universe until the surreal melts way with the return to human contact. At 8:44 I reached the parking lot, found a shady tree off to the right, and lay down. It couldn’t be any more anticlimactic. Perhaps someone in the parking lot looked over and either knew about the race or wondered by someone was dead tired first thing in the morning, but I think not. I knew one thing for sure – I wasn’t going to ride no 12 mile urban pedal to my sister’s house, I was calling to get a ride.
For a few days I experienced the glow that comes after 4 full days in the sun and 4+ days on the bike. I ate food, lots of it – a rotisserie chicken, a 1 lb ham steak, a 2.5lb meatloaf, and 1.25lbs of salmon just in the first 4 days. Not to dismiss the refined carbohydrates, I ate a blueberry pie, and a pint of ice cream, both topped off with whip cream and chocolate syrup. I schemed up bike riding and racing plans and got a huge boost in enthusiasm for the sport. I once again wanted my life to revolve around the bike. But I was cautious in getting too attached because it never seems to last.
A week later the realizations of how life works once again set in. My small flurry of emails to companies to test their product, endorse their product, or work for them got shut down. They never heard of me and the guy from the warehouse that now has the marketing or product development covered has no use for my skills. No one cares if I rode the CTr slow or fast. No one owes me anything. I know that. That’s one reason for cautious exuberance.
Memories of the CTr will fade. I’ll lose interest in biking over the winter. I’ll disassociate myself with the whole endurance racing gang. But if the past once again repeats itself, I’ll claw my way back onto the bike. I’ll go for longer rides. I’ll love singletrack once again after spending days riding real trail, and I’ll scheme of racing down the CT once again. I think I have one more good weather ride in me, north to south being the classic direction I want to finish on, and for that iteration, my senior year, I hope to be out there on my carbon FS dream bike giving my 100%.