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.