for now, CTR obsessions

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A new year, a new look at the CTR 2013

During the last day of the CTR I pretty much swore I’d never ride this again, instead ruminating on the idea of BACKPACKING parts of the trail. There was just too much bullshit hiking, a phase used by many other participants, that it wasn’t fun anymore, exhausted or not. Not more than a few hours after finishing and certainly by the middle of the next day I was already fantasizing about next year. Sure, hearing that it might start in Durango could have been part of it; it would be a different race, but that wasn’t the main reason. Something happens in the brain. I think it’s quite like drinking, in fact. A strong, bitter drink, leads to a euphoric experience. You question the process but even acquire a taste for it. You most undoubtedly love the final results.

I was hooked on the chemicals floating in my head, heading out within the next week to climb Longs Peak, and suffer some more – the true sign of an endurance junkie. I felt I could do anything, at least temporarily, but it was hard not to still be consumed in the race for a few weeks following. I wanted to know the story of Jefe, Ethan, and Jessie, where they made it to each day, how much they slept, and who had been in the lead. I also thought of how close Dan and I were to Max but the time we took in Silverton and the few hours of sleep somewhere before Stony Pass didn’t leave me with frustration of what could have been. Most of what went through my mind was how I would ride it faster, because I knew I could. For being a newbie to bikepacking and the CTR I played this first race conservative. I never did anything that I thought would jeopardize my ability to finish and brought everything I might need, including a lightweight spare tire. I knew the devastation of not finishing after months of buildup would eat away at me so badly I would be likely to want to try an ITT later in the summer, and that would be just crazy.

So with one finish under my belt there would be certain things I’d leave behind and plenty of things I learned about what I really need.

  • I expected to need to sleep more than I did and I expected to be able to sleep more. I allotted myself 6-7 hours of sleep the first night but only slept about 3. Being nauseous, sleeping without a pad, and being wired from 17 hours of riding were all part of it. By the end of the race I felt confident that a strategy that would work for me would be to ride to 3 am or later each day and then wake up when it’s light – around 6:00 or 6:30 am. Counting all the hours I slept, this would be reducing my sleep by just 3 hours. I spent plenty of time lying around trying to sleep and just being too nauseous to ride.
  • I made a tarp tent specifically for this race. It was a sil-nylon canopy, mesh sides, a zippered door, and a PU coated bathtub floor. I wanted to be ready for any amount of rain and bugs. It worked great but took time to stake out. It also could be slightly overkill. For the rain we got, I would have been fine in a bivy and it would have saved me time in the evening and morning. There is a chance the rain could be worse or the timing of it worse but I’m willing to take the chance. This will save me ½ to 1 lb and some precious time.

IMG_0676 IMG_0677

  • Although I loved my sleeping bag and was actually cold while sleeping in it one of the nights, I’m considering not bringing it. I’ll either use a down jacket or purchase a lighter one. I just think I can get away with it. It’s save me space and another pound of weight.
  • I never expected to lower my standards and be so savage but sleep deprivation is no different than drunkenness. I brought along an extra chamois, a pair of socks I may not have needed, and long underwear. After I washed the chamois it never dried. I see myself cutting a pound easy in clothing (2 pounds wet).
  • I knew I could probably get away with iodine but brought a pump filter as well. The water sources were great and this year I’ll be ½ lb lighter without it.
  • The spare tire was to ensure I finished the CTR. This year I’ll probably stick with the Maxxis Ikon EXO 29 2.2 tires and definitely skip the 500 gram spare. Those tires took plenty of beating as my riding got sloppier and they held up fine. They’ve got 1000 miles on them still with no flats.
  • I might skip a Spot or a cell phone or both. My reason for no spot is: I’m cheap and borrowed one last year. The only benefit is for others to track me. I will once again run my GPS full time and record my track. I also don’t want to rely on the Spot as a way to get help. I don’t want to push myself so far and know I can push a button and be rescued. Riding without a spot will help me make better decisions. I also don’t think I need a phone. I only used it a couple of times to try to figure out where everyone was. It only frustrated me as I couldn’t get good information.
  • With less overall gear, about 5 lbs pretty easily, I’ll have less weight on my back, and in turn, less pressure on my hands and wrists which suffered after the first day. I’ll also raise and shorten the reach. My XC race position was not good for a ride this long.
  • I’ll bring less food. I listened to recommendations from veterans that you shouldn’t go light on food from BV to Silverton. I brought about 15,000 calories for two days of riding but ate 10,000 at the most. I was also heavy on food the whole ride. Although I might eat more if I’m not nauseous, I don’t think I’ll down 8,000 a day. In fact, the first day I was most hungry. After that, riding at a slower pace, the body went into fat burning mode. I think for a 4 or 5 day race, losing one pound a day is fine. I only need to eat the minimum to perform at my highest. I can’t expect to completely replace what I’ve lost.
  • I need to change up my diet so I’m less nauseous. In retrospect, I brought a lot of calorie dense foods, many which aren’t real easy on my stomach, but I’ve always been able to eat about anything for 12 hour rides and that was my only training. What worked great was sub sandwiches and meat, egg, and cheese burritos. What didn’t work was soy protein, corn products, high sugar and high fat foods. This is still somewhat a mystery I’ve got to figure out.
  • I’ll probably change my light to a Fenix or another regulated light. After buying my Black Diamond Ikon I realized it wasn’t regulated. That is great for when you’ve run out of batteries and still need to have light, but sucked as my light would dim but batteries still had life left in them.
  • For clothing, I’m looking to bring a better rain jacket, pants, and possibly booties. While I had a good jacket, it didn’t have a hood except for my thrown together at the last moment crappy home made one. I’ll get some gore-tex paclite pants and either neoprene or gore tex socks or booties. The goal is to be able to ride in wet weather and not fear getting cold. I spent some time waiting out storms because the temperatures were low enough and I didn’t feel comfortable getting wet.
  • The last item to change is shoes. I didn’t want to spend the money last year but I already had the same idea. Regular bike shoes are bad because you’re slipping on the rocks like the hooves of a horse. They also aren’t ramped like running shoes. This makes the heel drop on ascents and you’re working more and walking slower. I’d like to hike faster with less effort and the Peal Izumi  X Alp still looks to be the best choice.

There are a few things that worked perfect and I’ll keep the same.

  • I’ll have once again a 29er hardtail. This year it’s aluminum. Last year was carbon. You can guess why. For parts I’ve had mixed luck with Sram/Avid but I do like their 10 speed shifters, derailleurs, cranks, and cassettes. Every year it changes though. They’re smooth but do seem to wear a little quick (who really knows though when you ride them through mud). I also like KMC chains and shimano brakes.  I haven’t liked my Reba fork but a replacement may not be in the works.
  • My tool kit was adequate, light, and I wouldn’t change much. It included the usual: lube, multitool, quick links, brake pads, derailleur hanger, zip ties, tubes, patch kit, and probably a few other things. You have to bring the obvious but you can’t kick yourself if you didn’t bring a cassette lockring tool or something to adjust the hubs. Get your bike fixed up before the ride as best you can.
  • I didn’t use anything in the first aid kit but it’s really just set up to stop blood. There’s tape, gauze, a few band aids and not much else.
  • I’ll bring the trifecta of body and undercarriage supplies – chamois cream, Vaseline, hand sanitizer.
  • Hopefully I have the same determination and attitude. I never thought of quitting last year or asked myself,  “why am I doing this?”. I do suspect a second time could be harder to stay motivated, especially if I push myself harder. I could see myself asking, “why am I doing this again” when it gets tough.
All the bike bags worked fine. I'll try to improve the rear pack to hold more gear more solidly. The frame and gastank were perfect.

All the bike bags worked fine. I’ll try to improve the rear pack to hold more gear more solidly. The frame and gastank were perfect.

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Friday into Saturday

Chris passes me at daybreak, but I’m a bit too cold to get going. It’s only in the morning that my drive to compete diminishes and I’m content to spend a little extra time mentally preparing for another day of riding. Seeing frost all around me last night I knew it would be cold in my damp 40 degree bag, so I wrapped my tent around me creating more moisture issues, but in the past this has worked, giving me another 10 degrees of warmth. My camelback hose is frozen confirming below freezing conditions. It’s another 3 hours of riding and pushing before I got to Silverton but it’s on an empty stomach as I’ve refrained from eating or drinking. I’m having the worst diarrhea of my life, but I like the tests this trip has put me through.

Which shot to post? I’ll post them all. Definitely gotta go back and hike this section

Keeping an eye out for the store, I spot Dan in town getting some breakfast. I decide to do the same. My goal now is to finish in 5 days but I know taking an hour now to refuel could save 3 hours later. I get two breakfast burritos, with the second one wrapped for later. I read about someone else doing this in a blog somewhere and being so used to “trail food” never would have thought of this on my own. The food takes a while but is delicious. I dry everything out, throw away some food I can’t stand the thought or sight of, and run to the store. I’m trying to amp up Dan as well but he doesn’t share my urgency. I figured I’d try riding with him for a bit but once I made that agreement was anxiously waiting/killing time at the grocery store. I ride back to where we have breakfast and he’s just coming down the road.

How singlespeeders are so strong I have no idea. He easily sets the pace up Molas and it’s only the fact that he needs to de-layer that I catch him. I don’t think our paces will be compatible, but he’s only human after all and later in the day, after 10 hours in his legs, he can no longer ride up what I struggle on in my granny gear. He has to put it into damage control mode and now we’re compatible.

Dan leads the way up Molas

Looking down at quaint Silverton

Within two hours we catch Chris, and by the way, those were an EPIC two hours! We rode on the edge of huge valleys with the trail traversing the mountain walls. Plenty of flowers, plenty of small stream crossings, and a feeling size and open space you can’t begin to describe.

Chris kicks the pace up for a bit and I yoyo off the back of the group of three. I stop too many times, change my clothes, eat that breakfast burrito that despite looking and feeling like a tube of lead, feels great in my stomach, and take some pics. It’s on the descent that I finally make contact. Chris reverts to his former pace, and I move on ahead as I’m feeling good to ride many sections he chooses to walk.

Dan catches up in a bit and for a second it seems like the two of us are set to go, but he’s just too strong. I’m also losing power, what precious watts I’m putting out are being absorbed somewhere in the filthy, inefficient drivetrain. The bottom bracket seems to be the culprit but on further examination my two derailleur pulleys are frozen. I lie on my side, take out the tools and pull out the pulleys and oil them. They go back in easier than when I’m working on it at home and they spin now. Unfortunately it doesn’t make me fly up the hills but it’s for sure better.

Climbing Blackhawk pass there’s no sign of Dan, but I like the time I’m making. Having ridden  the DDC a few weeks ago everything from here on out is familiar and I only have to double my race time from that day to estimate when I’ll reach Junction Creek. I look back and see Chris and that confirms how much time I loose with all my mini breaks. Come to think of it I’ll have to stop for food and grab some water soon.

I loved motoring down to Hotel Draw, moving at a speed that’s really too fast for my fatigue, flying over mounds of dirt onto flat landings. Brapp, brapp. I cruise past hotel draw, 5.5 hours at race pace, maybe 8.5 today. Back to climbing and suddenly Dan is in view ahead. Either he’s slowed or perhaps I need to upload my GPS data for the Strava challenge, because somehow I just closed a 20 minute gap.

Now we’re on the same pace, the same page, and we ride together to finish this thing out. We get small gaps on each other at time but they always close. It’s 9pm but I feel more like I have at 1am or 3am. It’s gonna be a long night and some limits will be pushed but I don’t see the need for sleep. What’s considered hard trail and a hard race (DDC) is easy compared to what we’ve been though. Indian Ridge is mostly rideable and the last hike a bike section before Kennebec is relatively easy (sorry Dan you weren’t expecting this).

Everything is different than three weeks ago and without much warning I spot the lake below and know it’s pretty much all downhill from here. I ride as much as I can of the technical descent and this gives me a little time to myself down below, to look at the sky, to reflect on the trip, to rest, to start to get cold. Nothing profound comes to mind. No emotions rise. I’m just a man on a mission and the mission is almost over.

I’m a little off on the descent from Kennebec Pass. It doesn’t help that my fork won’t give an inch and I feel like I’ve got carpel tunnel in both wrists five times over. My light is pretty fresh but I’m not processing what I see fast enough. I turn for a banked switchback and suddenly I’m pointed off the side of the trail. A huge waterbar fooled me. Luckily I stopped on a dime after realizing my mistake.

I wish I could have more fun right now. I think to myself how much I hate my fork but upon later reflection realize after 5 days of riding I will hurt no matter what.

So I don’t pin it the way my mind wants to. My mind, the most reliable equipment on this whole trip still finds going forward easy. It’s easier than finding a job or looking for an apartment, two horrors looming on the horizon. Riding is easier than managing the pressure and the stress of day to day life. It’s easier than figuring out what you really should be doing with your life. It’s easier than stopping and getting cold. Riding isn’t like yoga. It’s doesn’t require levels of concentration. It’s like a pull-up or a pushup – one dimensional, on or off, just do it or quit. This isn’t a nightmare, this is an escape. I’m just plugged in, watching a movie, nothing to think about, just along for the ride.

My throat is sore and I’m wiping my nose constantly. I’m so far bonked but I’m stubborn about eating. It doesn’t matter that I don’t eat. My food sucks and I’ll keep going.

I watch the mileage on the GPS and soon we’ll start climbing. During the DDC I caugh Kip on this section and he put me though some pain trying to drop me through 90% of the 1000+ foot climb. The result was, it went pretty fast. Even with that in mind the climb lingered forever. I pushed harder, sweated more intensely, but was stubborn about taking off my jacket. There was just a little emotion coming out. I wanted to pound the hill into submission and move it out of my way but the clock just ticked on.

At one point Dan began what seemed like a confession. I thought he was ditching me and my pace was too slow. Instead he claimed it was too high and he might rest. I practically called him a liar. Every time I lead he was on my ass. Every time he leads I yoyo off the back. I don’t know how that got resolved but he continues to follow.

It’s just 5 or 10 more miles of downhill and then some swichtbacsk and then a bridge and then make sure you stay right and stay on the trail all the way to the end. It’s really muddy down here and not much warmer so I creep through the puddles. Dan gains on me but then gets frustrated and I lead again, the last ½ mile. He calls out to tell me he’s going to pee but I shout back that we are done. I know we’ve got 500 more feet and it’s true, his piss can wait. We roll in and there’s one car there, my sister.

No great words can sum up the moment. In truth, we are really tired and all emotion and realization can wait but my hunger has me wired and lucid. I chat with my sister. We’re cold and pile in the car and stink it up. Dan is asleep.

I’m still stunned that my sister is here, at 4am awake and following the dots. It’s what I always wanted, just one person to be there (sure more would be cool too) for when I was finished, not just for the comfort of food or clothing, but to take a small part in what I’d done. This was a total surprise. I never asked and she never planned to make the trip from Fort Collins to Durango, but on Thursday night she must have had the same feelings as me. If I’m going to wreck myself, riding through the night for 5 days, there should at least me someone there when I’m done. That for me was emotional.

Drying it out at Hartman’s Rocks in Gunnison, CO

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I passed out once again in my chamois. I was getting used to this, certainly helped by the fact that my saddle sores had reversed their growth process and were shrinking away. It must have been all the lube and hand sanitizer and a little bit of luck.

I was passed in my sleep by two Saturday starters but it could have been anyone.  I only learned of this later.  I thought I was back in 5th place but couldn’t be sure about Jeff and Dan. Looking for tire tracks can be as misleading as asking hikers who is up ahead since some Saturday starters and day users are mixed in, but judging from the tracks, things were looking good.

After Sargents Mesa the riding seemed too easy. Maybe it’s because I was riding and not walking, but I was soon upon a long gradual descent into the San Luis Valley which ended by turning onto a well maintained dirt road. Rest! Relatively speaking.

Hard to capture with a photograph but spacious and serene in the early morning

I remember reading 24 miles and 7 miles in a detour description, so I prepared for about 31 miles of road. I had not done my homework well. After spotting two riders ahead on the road, and catching them when they stopped for a snack, they revealed we had some  55 miles of dirt road ahead. This was my aha moment when I realized how it would still be possible to finish in under 5 days.

After several days of riding, my pace had slowed. Everyone’s does, to the point that people of various fitness levels are really all riding at the same pace. Or rather there are three paces. There is the bonked, sleep deprived, I’m totally wasted pace, that is so slow that grabbing an hour or two of sleep would probably be the smart decision in the long run. Then there is just normal slow pace. And finally, spurred by a 5 hour energy or a surge of adrenaline, there is the fast unsustainable pace that you will undoubtedly crash from sometime in the future. Me and my two friends (I’m horrible with names but it looks like Glenn and Wayne) were moving along at normal slow pace which surprised me for a moment how compatible we were, but then it made sense. In effect, we were just spinning at this point, probably pushing 100-160 watts (which is not very many watts).

Easy dirt road pedaling

We leapfrogged back and forth all day long as I rode a just a tad faster pace but tended to stop more. The clouds held out for a while but opened up half way up Slumgullion Pass. I had been chatting with some drivers as they got into their car and at this point was getting pummeled with light hail and soaked as I searched for my detachable rain hood. Several times I looked back at the drivers sitting in their cars and was shocked they didn’t have a word of concern as the situation did not seem safe. Finding a shopping bag I put it over my head and backtracked to where I remember seeing some pit toilets. I race down to the shelter only to have a guy jump out of the passenger seat and beg to go in front of me. I shook my head and took the ladies side, standing in the doorway to avoid the smell, but in far enough to keep dry. How insensitive! I do not love other people on this earth as if they are my brothers and sisters, but there is a point when you either extend a hand (to get someone out of an electrical storm) or be considerate of someone getting soaked as you push past them to pee.

For about 45 minutes I waited out the storm. I don’t like getting wet and I’ve got strong memories of how getting wet during an easy 3 hour ride takes it out of me all the next day if I’m cold and shivering. This also gave me some good time to eat and digest. Things that weren’t easy on this trip.

I soon bumped into my two friends again who bragged how they’d had lunch and pumped water but I bet they rode through more hail then me. Despite their 8 day pace they were every bit as hardcore as me; they just slept when it got dark.

Glenn and Wayne, or maybe those aren’t their names

I went to pump water and after a liter had my 3 day old filter fail. I backflush it and it doesn’t get better. I pump and it does almost nothing. This is the second filter on the MSR hyperfilter that has done this. The first time which bike touring the US I thought I could have made a mistake while backflushing it, causing it to “airlock”. This time there was no mistake. Although I would have liked to drop a brick on the thing and smash the plastic into smithereens (turning something into smithereens teaches it a lesson) I knew it would suffer a less dramatic death of simply being thrown in the first trash can I find.

At the top of Slumgullion pass the temperature is cool and after descending for a mile my knees feel like they want to split open. It’s also just too dam chilly. Princess and pea I keep thinking. I can do this race, I just don’t like being too hot or two cold.

At the top of Spring Creek, my two friends keep going but to me the weather looks real bad. My goal is to make it to Silverton in one straight shot and that means I can’t deal with much weather. It’s just too high up and too cold to be wet at night. Within 20 minutes the most violent storm of the trip begins and I feel sorry for my buddies that are now without shelter. Chris has caught up with me as well as another couple tourers. We grab one side of the pit toilets and the other two guys grab the other. We watch lightening strike right in front of us and the hail pile up to an inch. Some drivers pull off the road and wait it out. The storm isn’t going anywhere. Two air masses moving in opposite directions collide on top this pass and neither one seems to gain the upper hand. I don’t care how much time is passing because I’d rather have shelter then be getting pummeled right now.

Hail and mud

I wait almost an hour after the storm stops and by this point Dan and another Saturday starter have arrived. I’m getting cold and these two guys want to go. I try to read into the clouds as best I can. I walk around, look around, am not certain, but feel there’s a good window and it’s only getting better. It’s a good call.

The mud is thick at first as the hail really soaks the trail more thoroughly than rain. A hiker heads in my direction and she’s looking as crazed as us riders. She obviously weathered the storm. She said she was on the ridge and just prayed. Now (screw this pretty much) she’s hitchhiking to town. Wow, this lone woman has a wilder story to tell than me.

muddy trail and cold air

There’s only an hour of light and I get to the top of a mesa, walking the section that Ethan and Owen missed in previous years, a turn I missed but realized after 100 yards because I really am a navigational idiot so I run the GPS full time, and compose one of my favorite shots of the trip.

You gotta love it

I’m getting cold already with most of my gear on and that worries me. It’s only getting colder and I’m only going higher. Within ½ hour it’s dark but when I look back I see two sets of lights. One set is probably Dan and the Saturday rider (they discussed making a fire to dry out clothes but I pressed on) and the other light must be Chris’s. I’ve learned that I’m a slow hiker compared to others (It’s not me of course, but maybe my shoes or short legs) so I figure they’ll catch up at some point in the night. My mentality during this race has also been to focus on progress.  If it so happens that I’m riding with someone, that’s cool, but I’m not trying to hang out and group ride this trail. I want to push my limits and that naturally means a bit of alone time. I’ve had enough contact and enough conversation in the past to day to feel like I shared the experience with others but not so much that it looks like I’m relying on others to help me mentally on this journey.

As I climb higher I need more food but my body also rejects it. Crunched up Ramen with sprinkled on seasoning has worked great on backpacking trips so I make this my fuel for the night. In normal conditions this might work well, but now it’s prompting a fist fight in my bowels that at first seems great and liberating as a I tear of my chamois, lift up a rock, and fowl up the earth, but by the next morning contains bubbles and chases after my shoes as I squat on a hillside. For the rest of the trip the bib shorts are worn on the outside of all clothing.

Near midnight I see a light fast approaching and figure it must be Chris. Instead it’s Dan and he’s fired up. It’s inspiring to see his pace on the single speed and figure I’ll follow for a bit, but I can’t, not even for a minute. He’s easily doubling my pace, riding at race pace, riding as if he hadn’t ridden his bike for a few days, riding like a phantom of my imagination. He motivates me to go faster but I realize I can’t really hold it for too long. After an hour I’m at my pace and I can’t even make out his light in the distance.

I don’t know what’s Coney’s or what’s Cataracts but the section goes on for longer than I could have imagined. Chris estimated 8 hours from Spring Creek Pass to Silverton and I’ve almost ridden than much. I hoped to arrive in Silverton by 5am, sleep an hour or two and then head on, being that I’m sure I’ve got enough food, but at 3:45 I quit. I know I could have kept going but it didn’t seem to matter. I was over hiking. I’d sleep a little now or sleep a little later, so why not now.

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I wake up with heavy dew over the tent and damp sleeping bag. I curl deeper in my bag and wait for the light to turn from a dim grey. It’s not good to pack up when you can’t see, that’s how you lose things I remind myself.

I distinctly remember someone passing by about an hour or two ago. The sound of a bike pulls you right out of sleep, and I think it must be Jeff making a comeback of his own, pushing harder and sleeping less than I was willing.

I get going and feel groggy with a slight sensation of spinning, not unlike a good night of drinking at altitude. I decide I had pushed it hard enough the night before and was paying for it now. The problem is that when you feel good you want to ride fast, and riding fast never seems to pay off.

An hour into my day I have an oh shit moment where I realize my headlamp isn’t where it’s supposed to be on my waistbelt but soon find it stuffed in another bag.

I continue to feel worse as I cross the highway and climb fooses creek. In retrospect, having a muffin for dinner and breakfast is not working out. I learn slowly but by the end of the trip that pushing myself to these limits creates a hyper sensitivity where only certain foods work out. Sugar and soy protein seem to be two of the major culprits causing nausea.

Beautiful morning view looking west towards Monarch Pass

I run into several hikers. Sometimes they’ll volunteer information and other times I ask about the other racers up ahead. Most of the info is incorrect as we all look pretty much the same to them. My only purpose is find out if someone is just ahead and in that case it would be fun to catch them and chat a bit.  The one lone hiker I hear about an hour ahead is probably Max. It turns out it was he who passed me in the night after I’d unknowingly leap frogged past him. Hearing someone is close is motivating and makes you want to push the pace but more often than not pushing the pace requires more breaks and ultimately slows you down over the long run. But the thought of catching someone is still temping.

Yup, feeling sick already

Really nice trail on Fooses Creek before the hike a bike starts

Is this not steep?

Joining the Monarch Crest trail and last time I felt halfway descent for the day.

It’s hard to remember the names of everything but not too far past Marshall Pass a fairly violent storm develops and I hit the wall. I can’t eat another bite of food and I’m having trouble putting one foot in front of the other. I run into a hiker who tells me he came across another rider at 6am in the morning who’d ridden through the night, gotten rained on, and looked like hell. But I didn’t look much better he said. Was this Jefe, Ethan, or Jessie? Had one of them cracked or was looking like hell just all part of the plan?

It must appear a little reckless to the people you run into when you look like you could use a chaperon and you’re either pushing right into a storm or looking like a drunk trying to ride your bike fast. I guess we could be a bit safer by not racing so hard, not pushing our bodies to the limit, save ourselves from an overuse injury, save our families from the worry, but the track record so far is pretty good. It seems like most riders can define where the line of safety is, and lightening is always going to be there, exposing the dozens of hikers just as much as us bikers. If you want to play these are the risks. The only thing we should be ashamed of doing is not recognizing and accepting them before we go out there.

CTR 2012 feeling like puke from Matt S on Vimeo.

(I’m really talking nonsense here. I’m just a little tired of hiking and not biking. Every few seconds it looks like I’m going to puke)

There aren’t many flat spots to lay down on but I don’t want to traverse the mountain side any longer than I have to and I’ve learned that comfort needs to be minimal with this many layers of fatigue to shed. At 11,500 is where I make my camp and spend the next 7-8 hours, getting naps in and trying to slowly eat food and water. The diet turns to plain flour tortillas with a little bit of chocolate peanut butter. I question whether I’m sick when my body goes from hot and cold and face seems to be burning up but it’s more a matter of sunburn and the fluctuations that occur when you’re damp. This was my lowest moment of the trip physically but mentally I felt composed. I knew I was loosing valuable time, but I was doing everything I could. Pushing on with no food or puking was not sustainable for 3 more days. If I got my stomach back on track I would be able to race again and skip the next night’s sleep so that’s what had to be done.

My mental composure was probably the biggest surprise of the trip. I have to say I don’t like being tired and it easily affects my moods. I was nervous that by my second day I’d feel the whole trip was stupid and even though I’d vow to finish, would hate hundreds of miles and tireless hours of travel. This was not the case. Even though I slept more than others, I tallied about 13-14 hours for the trip or 3.5 hours average per day, I think I deprived myself enough to expect a mood shift. Throughout the trip I not only enjoyed every day, but found it mentally easy. I’d already made up the rules before the trip started. They were: 1. don’t question the purpose of doing the CTR. 2. Don’t overwhelm yourself with how much more trail is in front of you. 3. Be satisfied with doing the best you can do.  With those rules serving as my belief system, it was easy to be motivated. Finishing this thing at anything faster than touring pace is huge and I didn’t want to wait another year, as failure eats away at me, to try it again.

During my down time Dan, Jeff, Chris, and the Cat Morrison group all pass by, 7 in total, but as the last group passed I began to feel like I could do this again. Rise and shine, it’s 8pm. Packing up seems to take too long but I’m soon chasing after the last four, me with fresh legs trying to warm up, and the others close to that point where you’re falling off your bike.

With some fresh sleep behind me, riding through the night was easy but covering ground took longer than I thought. I targeted Sargents Mesa for a night ride as it’s known for rocky up and down with plenty of hike a bike. The repeated climbs above 11,000 each dip into the fog which bounced off my light, chilled my bones, and caused me to want to rail it a little harder to get lower. I follow the trail as it climbs and descends every little bump on the ridge, another section of the CT that doesn’t seem well planned for your hiking and riding pleasure. Suggestion: take the trail up to one or two highpoints with a view and the rest of the time have it contour along the side of the mountain in a playful and lightly undulating way.

The final leg switchbacks down into the famous Apple camp where smooth and fast singletrack begs to be charged even with sore wrists and blurry eyes. I come flying into a banked switchback but the tires find two rocks that send me flipping over onto my back and hip, the carbon frame getting scratched and dinged on the rocks. Rather than feeling much pain, I found this moment particularly funny. Not stupid, careless, reckless, or shortsighted, but funny.

At Apple’s camp I saw three bikes but didn’t recognize any of them. I wished I’d come through when it was light and gotten to enjoy this well known feature of the trail, but I was cold, stomach not ready for sodas or moon pies, and no one looked in the mood to hang out.

The plan was to push it until sunrise and then catch a nap. The following section of trail was fast and little did I know there was 55 miles of dirt road to follow, all making possible the fast times I had in mind.


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I sleep for 90 minutes and wake up still nauseous, sleep for another 90 minutes and feel better but it’s only 4:30 and I don’t want to head out while it’s still dark. Yuck. Pulling myself from the sleeping bag is one of the hardest things to do in the morning but I manage to get going by 6 or 6:30. There are other bums in the area, lying against trees, wrapped up in emergency blankets, and I try to leave some space between them and my morning bowel movement.

With the cold weather I notice my fork is as stiff as ever despite trying to remedy that my leaving the bike inverted for a while but it’s not long before the sun hits me and all 5 layers that seemed completely necessary minutes ago come off. Single speed Dan greets me from up on the hillside from where he slept but I’m still waking up, warming up the chaffed crotch, and don’t feel like waiting a few minutes for company, ba humbug.

I’ve ridden the upcoming section to HWY 24 several years ago and remember riding along this creek and the alpine cruising to come. While I’ll ride through beautiful areas at night along this trip, I’m timing this section just perfect and reach Searle Pass early enough in the morning that the sun still feels like a soft blanket. Between Searle and Kokomo is all above treeline, hero riding, but unfortunately I’m lacking a few more inches of suspension to really romp it.

Climbing up to Searle

Top of Searle

I look back and spot Dan, about 20 minutes back. This year I’ve ridden with some really strong single speeders, getting beat on some occasions, and even though he seemed dead yesterday evening, he’s definitely recovered.

I once again anticipate arriving in Leadville, trying to gauge how I’m doing on time. I’d like to be there at 10am and maybe make Buena Vista by 3:30 but I’ve killed 7-7.5 hours overnight so this is too ambitious.

The descent off Kokomo is steep but not as bad as I remember it. Several years ago I was riding rim brakes and now disc brakes really kick ass (XT brakes kick more ass than others).

Up to Tennessee pass I catch a Saturday start rider and she snaps a shot of me. In her mind I’m a fast rider. In my mind I’m getting killed by about 5 hours right now.

I summit Tennessee pass and expect to descend alongside the road but the trail has other plans. There are many more times to come where I expect the trail to follow a more direct way from point A to point B but it winds way to the side or sometimes even climbs when the ultimate goal is descent yet doesn’t seem to be heading to any point of interest. I declare the trail “stupid”.

I also wonder who left all their coolers out in the woods. I expected to see Apple at the end of Sargents but at this point I could live off sodas and moon pies. What the hell, I grab two moon pies from one of the caches but this is the only food I take on the trip. The problem is I’m horribly overpacked and coming to the realization that sodas and moon pies=puke.

In Leadville I contemplate fork service but it seems to feel good in warmer temps. I do realize I’m getting sores on my body from the pack rubbing so a tube of vaseline is in order. I’ve reached the point where slathering it liberally over any tender spot doesn’t feel dirty, adding to grime on my skin, but soothing and necessary, like wiping mud on yourself for sun protection.

Today is a high miles day because of the road riding but they aren’t passing by fast enough. The relative heat is uncomfortable to ride in but within 2 hours of Buena Vista scattered storms cool it off. Even before Buena Vista I’ve got my mind on a cold jump in the river but first I’ve got a number of miles south on the old railroad grade with a headwind in my face.

Aspens somewhere between Leadville and Buena Vista

Descending down to FS 390

Railroad tunnels leading to Buena Vista

I almost drop my shorts in front of an old grimy fisherman down at the waters edge and he promptly leaves to find a new spot. Feeling all clean and pretty, with dirty chamois hanging off the back of the pack, I ride a few more minutes into BV, checking the time to see it’s about 6pm.

The transition there takes longer than expected. There are a couple of reasons: One is that I’m second guessing what to buy for food, not wanting so many bars and at the time thinking more apple pies, muffins, and coffee cakes might be good. The City Market also doesn’t sell sub sandwiches which means a trip to subway and wait in a line, but after Leadville, I realized a sub sandwich sits really well.

Feeling good, which at this point means not sick, but moving slow out of BV, my goal is to catch at least one of the 4 leaders and get myself back in the mix. Having ridden this section 2 months ago I anticipate the hike a bike, but that works out well at night. I push it until around 3am but don’t think I’ve caught anyone. I’m about 5 miles from hwy 50 and figure I’ll try to sleep 2-3 hours and be moving by 6.

This is a bad thing. It means most of the easy parts are over.

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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.

Can’t believe my buddy Winston shows up to give his support

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.

I went to college with this bad ass. Although he doesn’t finish due to injury, he runs two back to back 75 mile days.

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.

These are average people, and look at what we’re capable of.

I’m fine for now with the front group but when the trail points up I’m quickly off the back

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.

Just cause I’m not at the front, it’s still cool riding with this dude ( I have no idea who he is).

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.

Nice front range burn area

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.

Past a quick and always violent storm, I’m in the clear for now

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.

A shot of Jefe showing me how winners do it. Winner don’t carry backpacks

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.

Wild trees and wild skies somewhere between here and there

Hey take my pic please

I bet no one has taken a shot like this before

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.

I’m not stalking you Jefe, but teach me your ways, how do you win it?

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.

Just plain perty

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.

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I never thought I’d ride this

I can’t say what caused a complete 180 in my attitude. I had never wanted to ride a bike more than 12 hours at a time and only during daylight hours. Now I was spending months focusing and planning for a point to point race expected to take a minimum of 4 days. Having turned 30 this year and finding it increasingly hard to stay up late or drive into the night I thought this might be an attempt to turn back the clock. But after some hard thinking, what had occurred was a fundamental change in what I thought would be enjoyable.

For a couple of years I’d followed the blue dots on track leaders and knew of the favorites, eager to see who could keep it together to the end, but doing the race myself held no appeal, it just wasn’t me. It was sometime in April or May when one of the locals came into the shop I worked at and mentioned he wanted to do the Colorado Trail Race (CTR). Like that, a switch was turned and I thought “why not do it?” Suddenly all the reasons for why not became insignificant. The CTR is so much bigger than riding for 24 hours straight or going on a night ride. It’s not just making 8 mile loops along a course. It’s a high altitude rugged adventure, and that was enough to override any hesitations I had.

I knew I hated riding when thoroughly fatigued but what if the pace was much slower and the goal much greater in scale. Once the idea was in my head I had to test the waters to see if I was up for it. The first test was to go on a long bike ride. Long had previously meant 6-8 hours at a hard pace. Now I was shooting for 12 or more hours of riding but not pushing the pace. I picked out a mostly dirt road route I’d been wanting to complete for a while and after getting lost, spent about 12 hours on the bike covering 160 miles. I expected to end feeling completely spent and dissuaded from riding the CTR. Instead I finished with more to give and confidently proclaimed it only took about 50% effort.  I was tired sure enough, but not to the point of hating riding my bike.

The next test came in late May. Riding in the daylight in one thing, but pushing through the night is quite another. I’ll mention again, I never go on night rides. It’s just a pain in the ass to see and I get too tired. Again, old people talk. I decided to move back to Colorado and rather than make the trip from California in 2 or 3 days as I’ve done before, I figured I’d drive straight, more CTR training. This definitely is not recommended for safety but the CTR is anything but a safe and sure bet so I decided to make an adventure out of the 25 hour trip. I took a couple 30 minute naps but was able to make it through the night. Training test #2 was passed.

At this point the CTR seemed like a sure thing. During June and July I rode three more 100 mile mountain bike races and each time seemed easier than the last. I knew I could do it but why was this appealing?

Figuring out why you want to do a ride like the CTR can be more challenging that figuring out if you can do it. Midway through the race when many people were having mental breakdowns, the reasons for why they were doing the race suddenly seemed (to them) stupid, selfish, and egotistical. My reasons may be all three, but before I lined up at 6am I’d thought about them and already realized that.  For me it came down to two things.  I wanted a challenge unlike any other I’d done and I wanted an adventure to rival anything I’ve done. That’s the sum of it.