Sunday, August 24, 2014

Colorado Trail Race 2014

Well it's now August and after a full 2 months of planning, everything feels as ready as it can be for my inaugural attempt at the Colorado Trail Race or (CTR) to those who know it.  The CTR in short is... 

...Colorado’s premier long distance trail. Stretching almost 550 miles from Denver to Durango, composed of 28 Segments and 5 Bicycle Detours.  It travels through the spectacular Colorado Rocky Mountains amongst peaks with lakes, creeks and diverse ecosystems. Trail users experience six wilderness areas and eight mountain ranges topping out at 13,271 feet, just below Coney Summit at 13,334 feet.
The average elevation is over 10,000 feet and it rises and falls dramatically.
Users traveling from Denver to Durango will climb 89,354 feet.

1). Race from Denver to Durango, self supported, under only your own power, along the entire CTR route.

2). No pre-arranged support, with the exception of post office mail drops only.

3). Oh yeah and don't break the law.

So here is my 2014 CTR rig...everything minus the kitchen sink, just shy of 45lbs with h2o
So let's fast forward to Saturday the day before the race.  Jill and I headed out to meet up with Neil Beltchenhko in Salida, finish our drive to Denver and hopefully find a place close to the race start for the early 06:00AM Sunday group start.  Bikes are packed, things go well and we crash at Andrew Schuhumann's house the night before the race.  A quick coin toss lands me on the couch and Neil in the bed.

Morning comes and it's time to race.  My strategy has a few parts.  Part 1 - find someone who thinks they can do this course in 6 days and follow their lead.  Part 2 - I have to be at work the following Saturday so I really don't have time to waste...I need to finish this course in under 6 days.  Part 3 - eat often (about every hour).  Part 4 - Stretch when I can.  Part 5 - Take care of my feet and my ass.  Part 6 - Take some pictures.

DAY 1 - Sunday

A quick speech from the creator of this event, Stefan, and we are off.  Some 55 or so idiots like myself pedaling as a group for the first 5 miles to the singletrack turnoff.  Segment 1 and 2 went by pretty smoothly.  Plenty of water, food and company.  I let the veterans do their thing and gap me and soon found myself pedaling in the rain on the detour, alone.
Segment 2 pedaling through the burn area just before the first bicycle detour.
I really did myself a disservice by not doing a ton of logistic homework.  In my mind, I figured someone will be in front of me and someone will be behind me so I'll be fine.

I was looking forward to my refuel spot at mile 66 in the town of Tarayall, which I had circled after a discussion with Neil in the car while driving to Denver.  Somehow, what I circled and where I was suppose to circle was about a 33 mile mistake (3 hour oops).  I enjoyed cool temps and rain on and off from about mile 65 to the Stage Stop services.  I was well prepared for the rain with gear, but it does tends to make things a bit miserable.  I swear the bike weighed 20lbs heavier when wet.  All of my bags absorbed water.  My frame bag needed a drain as the bag would hold water at it's lowest point.  Just little things that I should of known would happen.  But thanks to some podcasts, the mind was at least preoccupied.  When I finally arrived at Stage Stop and saw other racers bikes outside, morale was through the roof.  I made myself at home (which for me means drying everything that's wet, walking around with no shoes, cleaning my bike, charging all my electronics and using my phone).  I ordered 3 meals of food and relaxed with some friends new and old.  I rushed, towards the end, so I could pedal on with some others that had beat me to the stop.  

Stage Stop Bar Saloon Store MILE 99 NOT 66.
Today's goal was Kenosha Pass, mile 115.  Made it there about 10:30PM and got talked in to getting some rest at the campground with Dave and planned to wake up early around 3:30AM to continue on.  I bought the plan and hit the sack early, against my normal of riding past midnight.  This was all new terrain for me so I figured let's try this.

Day 1 goal reached.

DAY 2 - Monday
Woke up "antsy as hell" and left Dave at the campground.  I passed about 8 other racers who had passed me through the night, that were still sleeping or just waking up.  The morning ride was difficult as the condensation off the knee-high grass made your feet cold, wet and then numb.  This also left the exposed tree roots super slippery.  Dave caught back up and we crested Georgia Pass at the same time taking a few pics along the way.
Georgia Pass in the background as the sun is rising.
Breckenridge in the background atop Georgia Pass.
Upper Breckenridge just before "10 mile pass" or as I would call it 10 mile hike with your bike.

Scott and I atop "10 mile pass" before the steep, brake burning descent into Copper Mtn and mile 160.7.
You can faintly see Copper Mtn in the background.

Scott also caught up to us just in time for the techy descent in to Breckenridge.  We were trying to get through Breck before we conflicted with a huge XC bike racing event called the Breck Epic.  Last thing I needed was to be in the middle of a 200 man sprint race.  So Dave, Scott and I pushed hard with a goal of Copper Mountain by 4PM.

Copper was a big refuel spot in this race.  Jill met me and a huge group of racers from about 4-6PM at a bar called Endos, in the main village of the resort.  I did my usual of making myself at home.  About 10 racers gathered here and left as a group just before 6PM towards Tennessee Pass.  I had to do a little detour catch up but spirits were high and the body was feeling great. This section from Copper to Tennessee Pass is a ton of fun.  Great rolling, slow ascending, mostly rideable, beautiful terrain.  It took me about 4 miles to catch the first couple riders in front of me, due to my little detour.  I saw a 10th mountain division hut just before the summit of Searle Pass.  I've heard about these and how you can rent them as ski cabins in the winter. This one called Janet's Hut looked comfy.

10th Mountain Division Janet's Cabin.
Love military history.

Section 8 just before Searle Pass.
The trail went to some really fun descending singletrack.  Probably got a bit ahead of myself when I had crash # 2.  Luckily I landed in some soft stuff and was able to move on.  I often get so excited to log miles and forget about the fact I am in the middle of nowhere.  But, I guess its all a gamble sometimes.  Left Dave and some others around Camp Hale and continued on, running into Scott again.  We pushed and finished Day 2 at Tennessee Pass TH with an early morning plan to wake up and ride into Leadville via Detour #2 arriving about 7AM, when all the services open.
DAY 3 - Tuesday

Woke up and started a quick 2.5 mile trail section before our road detour into Leadville.  It takes me a while to get going in the morning and Scott left me behind.  I pedaled watching the sun come up.  I met up with Scott at a small bakery where I was able to gather some foot care supplies and much needed calories.  His plan was to gather just enough to make it to Buena Vista where we would do a large resupply.  I did my standard make myself at home, had 2 breakfast burritos and was giving chase departing Leadville about 0800AM.  We were soon greeted by Garrett and another rider on the long road detour, before we jumped back on Segment 11.

My view leaving Leadville towards BV, solo road riding.
The next section was pretty much a blur.  I was falling behind of the other riders and was trying to stay on my food plan of eating something big or small every 45 minutes or so while also trying to keep them within distance.  I don't mind being slower my plan of pedaling an extra hour per day usually pays off and then I catch up.  Everyone has a different strategy.  Some make big multi-hour stops throughout the day, some eat and ride, some don't even stop.  My key was to play my game which is hard when people are passing you.  I caught back up to Scott after Twin Lakes and we pedaled into BV together, just as the Trans Rockies Trail Run was finishing their day.  Kind of motivating seeing miles and miles of racers in pain, hobbling and being in probably just as much pain as myself and what every other CTR racer was feeling.

Scott and I arrived in BV mile 246.2 just before 1PM only about an hour behind our goal.  I was a wreck.  Feet were a mess.  I had been trying to stay with the racers in front of me and had been neglecting my feet.  Got a few small blisters and one really nasty blister on my left heel that really stood out on the hike-a-bike.  After setting up camp at Boneshaker Bicycles I bought a pair of cheap sandals from across the street, so I could let my feet dry.  Scott and I walked over to K's Famous Hamburgers.  Ordered a ton of food and got our energy back about us.  It was a really hot day in BV, even though the mountains around the town were surrounded by black clouds and moisture...YEAH!

The line was out the door and for some reason we waited!!!
BV was a critical stop in this race.  We would be without services from now until Silverton, CO. We had two unreliable stops if our timing was good.  Princeton Hot Springs mile 268.2 and a Trail Angel in the middle of Segment 18 (Approx mi 340).  Scott had a meal plan and to keep tradition, I winged it.  I came out of the grocery with a bunch of bars, tuna, oatmeal, electrolytes and beef jerky.  Scott had a huge bar of cheese, sausage and other high calorie items.  I was probably more concerned about my feet than my belly.  Regardless, the bike had no room for anything else.  For the feet, I bought some Bandaid blister pads, blister glue, Bigger bandaids and a roll of tape.  Scott and I were discussing our current pains and I told him I was certain I was starting to strain both my Achilles tendons and with this blister it was going to be some slow going for me, so I'll catch up when I can.  Don't know if i sparked something or what, but Scott's Achilles started to bother him almost instantly.  I hit the road around 3PM for the next segment and left him in BV where he ended up calling the race, due to his injuries.  
My view leaving BV pedaling towards Segment 13.
My goal pedaling up to Segment 13 was to go slow and miss the obvious rain storms that were rocking the Mount Princeton peak.  It was a gamble as I couldn't see the storms on the other side of the peaks, although I could hear the thunder.  It seemed to pay off.  I could see the moisture on the trail but it had passed through and it wasn't raining on my head.  This area was really fast and enjoyable.  No pics as I was trying to catch up with Garrett and Dave who were in front of me.  I texted Jill and she gave me the news that others were about an hour ahead of me. Trail hikers confirmed there were others ahead of me.  I was in Princeton Hot Springs mile 268.2 ahead of schedule just before 7PM.  Early enough to grab a Chicken Alfredo to go and refill some snack-ables.  I met so many people in the restaurant that had or were planning to bike-pack the Colorado Trail.  Everyone was so supportive and in awe.  Very motivating for me to keep pushing on solo, chasing the racers in front of me.

Princeton Hot Springs...I admittedly got scared about my
calories and ordered a huge calorie Chicken Alfredo.
One of many mistakes was not actually bringing the Colorado Trail Guide booklet.  To save weight, I had the great idea of taking pictures of the pages individually and making a CTR album on my iPhone.  Well this worked well until I missed a segment.  The entire next section was a ghost.  I had no idea of the elevation but I kind of knew it was about 20 miles long.  At the TH, I met a through-hiker and chatted with him for a few before heading out.  I gave myself the hopes of being at US-50 mile 290.6 by midnight.

The section instantly climbed up 1,500 ft.  Then was full of choppy boulder fields, off camber, nasty terrain that would have been difficult on fresh legs.  I caught up with Garrett at about 10.3 miles in to the segment, sleeping next to a stream.  I stopped and chatted with him for a bit.  He was pretty spent.  We made a plan to wake up at 3:30AM and push on.  I setup camp and passed out about 11PM.

DAY 4 - Wednesday

I woke up next to the stream, put a new foot dressing on and we both set off.  The trail was crap for another 3 or so miles.  When the sun came up it turned into descent ride-able singletrack.  I lost Garrett around the US-50 crossing and never saw him again.  I was off again, riding solo, working up towards Marshall Pass.  The beginning of this segment did nothing but climb, mostly hike-a-bike.  Lots of slogging through streams, puddles and mud.  Finally, about 10:30AM, I could hear voices from the top of Monarch Pass.  I hiked my way up to find a group of mountain bikers from Gunnision.  They took a few pics of me, said some encouraging words and off I went.  The following section to Marshall Pass was fast and 100% rideable.

Hike-a-bike up to top of Monarch Pass.
Top of Monarch Pass.
Top of Monarch Pass.
Smooth sailing in to Marshall Pass.
Heading towards Sargents Mesa. 
Heading towards Sargents Mesa.
Heading towards Sargents Mesa.
My body turned to crap and I started bonking before Tank 7.  I decided to lay under a tree, hide from a thunderstorm or two and regain the motivation to continue forward.  I ate some of my amazing Chicken Alfredo and made a daily goal of HWY 114 mile 339.2, about 25 more miles.

The toughest part of the ride is not knowing the terrain and whether it is rideable.  It's demoralizing to go less than 2 mph for hours.  I pushed on into the next segment and it beat me down hard.  Morale was at its lowest.  It had some decent downhill, but it was an OHV section and was in really poor shape from all the off road vehicles.  I was earning and working really hard for every mile.  I finally made it to a huge descent to HWY 114 and finished the segment.

At the beginning of the next segment I was ready to set up camp when it started to lightly rain.  I looked at the elevation profile on my CTR album in the iPhone and was encouraged to push on. The trail looked fast, rolling and capable of high speed.  This was the segment with the Trail Angel.  That gave me hope.  I thought if I could just get to mile 11.9 of this segment I would be guaranteed great sleep and some food variety.  It was about 8PM when I put on the headphones, rain suit and pushed hard to the Trail Angel camp.  Arriving just before 11PM on this oasis in the was a little piece of heaven.  Water, Chips, Cookies, Soda, Shelter.  I passed out in the shelter dome next to my bike eating potato chips and drinking Coca-Cola.  I didn't set an alarm and promised myself a great night of sleep, then I would wake up and get rolling. 

DAY 5 - Thursday

 I woke up about 7AM to some through-hikers, their dog, the trail angel himself and another racer named Dave.  The body and spirits felt so good after all the sleep.  Even though field mice were bouncing off my sleeping bag...I didn't care it was peaceful and comforting knowing this place helped so many through-hikers and bike-packers.  

The shelter that I slept in.  Me, Apple and Dave.
The Trail Angel sits out here for 6 weeks a year, during the peak season, and gives aide to people passing through.  I took my time soaking it up, getting ready for more tiny circles, ate some hot dogs, more chips and then talked Dave into riding with me.  We set out about 9AM on the long 56.1 mile La Garita Wilderness Detour.  

Starts off as easy miles.
Then the elevation comes in to play.
Almost to Spring Creek
We made it to Spring Creek about 6PM and took a quick 30 minute nap before we started the last 2 segments before Silverton.  It sounds so easy, we are at mile 406.7 and only have about 44 miles to reach Silverton.  How hard can that be?  

We pushed on to Segment 22 and some of the highest elevations on the CTR.  We reached a rideable trail and some awesome sunset views.

Segment 22.
Segment 22. 
Dave in the distance, Segment 22.

Oddest part of the race was sending text messages to Jill, friends and family at the highest point on the CTR 13,271ft.  Dave and I took a few minutes to catch up with everyone before we pushed on.  We finished Segment 22 and made it 2 miles into Segment 23, just after midnight; set up camp and crashed out hard.  Tomorrow I'd be in Silverton.  So Excited!

DAY 6 - Friday

Woke up at 530AM to an awesome canyon view along with the coldest morning of the entire ride. Ate some of my last large calories, packed up the bike and was hoping for Silverton for breakfast.  Less than 20 miles to Silverton.  Spirits were probably too high and expections as well.  I didn't wrap my foot up and wasn't eating very well thinking I'd be having French Toast in no time.  By about 10AM I knew it wasn't going well and had to stop and fix my feet and eat some calories.  The trail was an unforgiving, high alpine singletrack.  If you descended a mile, you'd climb right back up to hike-a-bike switch backs.  Really slow going, despite the amazing views.

Stony Pass came just after 11AM and spirits reached an all time high.  I enjoyed the next 10 miles of descent in to the familiar town of Silverton, CO where I was greeted by Jill and my dog Luna who had been following me on the SPOT tracker via trackleaders and decided to come visit me along the route.  That really made me smile that she was supporting me even though I was cutting the race short.  Silverton thank you for the amazing food I was about to consume and even though this journey was coming to an end I was stoked.  Despite all the encouragment to go forward I was out of time.  I had decided that since I have to work at 7AM tomorrow at the Fire Station, this would be the end of my journey.  I made it to mile 450.2 in about 5 days 7 hours.  The next section after Silverton would require about 14+ hours without problems and I just couldn't pull it off and still make it to work in any decent shape.  I'm happy that I was able to ride every segment of the CTR that I did.  And I did severely underestimate the magnitude of this ride.  Thank you everyone for all the support and praise.

Before leaving Silverton for Durango (via car) I got to see Neil before he headed back to CB.  I must say for riding as fast as he did for 4+ days his spirits were high and he looked to be in great shape.  A few limps here and there, but he was already talking about his 2016 run and the next bikepacking adventure.  Its fun to surround yourself with people who live outside of the normal box.  Its also interesting to see how many people would walk by my bike as it sat in front of the restaurant and wondered what the hell I was up to.

Til next time.

What I would change?  
1) Food better selection and have what I need and will eat nothing else.
2) Push hard in the areas where I can, relax in the slower sections.
3) When I decide to sleep make sure I pick a good spot and setup right.  3hours of great sleep is better than 6hours of crappy sleep.
4) Kind of thinking 2x10 gearing would of been nice, but I had zero, zero, zero mechanical issues aside from some gear bags that rubbed the crank arm and that was minimal.
5) Less clothes, I brought extra warm stuff that I really never wore. 
6) Pack bags same every time.  Sometimes I would tear through my complete setup looking for something.  I could be more systematic.
7) Lights worked great, but I think the dynamo is the way to go.  No worries about recharging anything.
8) May use GPS iPhone program verse carrying Garmin
9) Take care of my feet.

As I recap this post a lot is a blur.  "Yeah imagine that."  From time to time i'll refresh this post.