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.
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.
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.