for now, CTR obsessions


CTR wrapup

After Blackhawk descent (courtesy of Scott Morris)

After Blackhawk descent (courtesy of Scott Morris)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This years' setup

This years’ setup




Great lights

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The CTR: what it gives and what it takes

It wasn’t that long ago that I was committed to not riding longer than a daylight day at any one time. 24 hour races were out of the question, and any sort of multi-day sleep deprivation was not even a consideration. There were a couple of reasons. The first was that it wasn’t really fun to push it past 7 or 8 hours. I like going hard, not noodling around, and riding longer requires an adjustment of pace. Those desires have changed, and I’m not sure why, but can only guess that the adventures that can be had over longer ride times are worth it. The other reason I didn’t want to ride longer than the daylight hours is the damage to your body that occurs over ultra distances. By damage, I didn’t really know exactly what was bad, but I thought about overuse injuries of muscles, tendons, ligaments, and the stress your body is put under. Last year I all but forgot about my body and luckily had nothing more than achy knees when the temperatures dropped. This year, it’s occupied my mind a bit more as I try to recognize the risk and reward the CTR dishes out.

It was probably the blog reading that got me thinking about the health a ride like the CTR leaves you in, but to be fair, a 5 day effort is nothing like some of the longer races. (Mike Hall struggling after his around the world race. Eszter describing feeling shelled after the iditabike). The obvious is that it will take a while to recover and be ready to race again. There’s more to it than just catching up on sleep and healing some sore muscles. Your hormones have gone haywire which significantly inhibits the healing process, and that is what takes so long to get back to normal.  You’re not just tired physically, you’re tired emotionally, hormonally, cellularly. Foolishly you could think you might be back to normal, racing strong in a week or two, but it’s more on the order of a month  if you’re careful, and you might not be able to salvage any good speed for the rest of August and September if you don’t really rest. It comes down the CTR needing to be more fun that being in top shape for the rest of the races of the year, and I really think it is. While there’s no sense in living a carefully guarded life, I’ve had consider the expected aftermath of the CTR, the risks of injury, and be okay with them.

Memories, whether they are selective, or even accurate, is all you have, days, weeks, and especially years later. I don’t remember whether I actually enjoyed the experience or not but I remember it as one of the greatest things I’ve gotten to do outside. For this year, it’s worth it.

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Heed the dream or defeat the dream?

It’s not often, but sometimes I have dreams about the CTR. Sometimes I’m off course or lost or realize I’ve missed a section of the trail. Some dreams are nothing more than fictional scenarios of how the race will play out in 2013. I’ve also had dreams where I’m actually out in front with everyone chasing me (I think, because you’re never sure where everyone is at).

A couple of days ago I dreamt myself into more of a panic. I was probably sleeping restlessly and it was sometime towards morning as I was drifting in and out but I had a sickening feeling. I had pushed myself without much sleep and all of a sudden I was delirious but also terrified I’d never be able to sleep again. That compares to the dreams I’ve had camping at high altitude where I’ve woken gasping for air and I dreamt not being able to breath. At the moment, right before I came to consciousness, I had the definite feeling that I can’t do this, meaning pushing myself again on the Colorado Trail. Or at least I can’t reduce my sleep to the amount I’d like to.

Today is a few days later and the dream amuses me right now and as I watch the dots for the AZT, Stagecoach 400, and Rebecca Rusch on the Kokopelli, I continue to be psyched for this years race.

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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.