The Colorado Trail Race (CTR) had it’s 7th annual start this year on July 21st at 4am. There were only two elements that could make this year’s race more difficult than years past: a direction change or an alternative wilderness area detour. It so happens that this years CTR incorporated both. As a rookie to the CTR, but having rode the trail last year, I was not certain that the direction change was what made it the trail so taxing, but I knew that the additional 50 mile Taryall detour added a new element of challenge for many.
In any case, my first CTR would include riding 550 miles from Durango to Denver with little idea of how much time it would take. I set a goal of under 6 days, just to make sure I could get back to Crested Butte with a day to spare before work. All of my plans and preparations had been solidified roughly a week before the race, and all I needed was a ride down to Durango. It came down to the wire but Nate Stewart from Gunnison, a fellow CTR racer, volunteered to drive his car down to Durango.
|Nate and my bikes in the back of his truck, if only they knew what they were getting into.|
We arrived in Durango on Saturday afternoon, got some food, a hotel room, and made final adjustments to our rigs. It was nice to chat with another rider the night before as it really helped me figure out some final details. I slept well that night, had dreams of beautiful mountain vistas, sunsets, and laughs. I woke up, put on the bike clothes that I would wear for the next 5 days, and headed over to Carvers for a delicious quiche and some coffee. 74 riders all assembled in front of Velorution Cycles and set off at 4:00am after Stefan, the race organizer, said a few words. Eventually we would hit the Junction Creek Trailhead where we were all bottlenecked for a while. I had a good position until I needed to stop to adjust my bike computer sensor. I dropped far back and it was a struggle to get back up front. The sun rose and slowly everyone spread out.
I had no real plan but to keep pushing. I got to Kennebeck Pass and eventually Indian Ridge where I had my first taste of the Colorado Trail hike a bike (HAB) with Jefe Branham and Max Morris. Jefe eventually took off and I would never see him again. He went chasing after Jesse Jakomait who took off hot from the start. Blackhawk, Bolam, and Molas all passed with my lungs taking a beating. I forgot how high this trail can be. Even after training in Crested Butte, I still felt the altitude. I would eventually make it into Silverton around 6pm where I saw Matt Schiff and Jerry Oliver eating some food. I was certain I could make it to Silverton before the grocery store closed at 8, however I still packed a lot of food in case. I didn’t purchase much at all in Silverton, just a few things to eat at the time.
I made my way up Stony Pass trying to bike as much as possible. The sun set beneath the mountains
just as I got to the top. I was getting my lights ready for segment 23 when I noticed my head light, a Fenix LD20, wasn’t working. The same thing happened to me on the Arizona Trail Race 300 this year. It just shorted out for some reason. I replaced the batteries, banged it against my hand, event took it entirely apart, but had no luck. Fortunately I was prepared for this and had my Black Diamond Spot headlamp as backup. It emits 90 lumens for a good while on 3 AAA batteries. I rigged it to my helmet and pushed on. I didn’t push too far in the dark, maybe 8 miles, before the sleep monster took over. My plan was to sleep a lot the first two nights just to feel rejuvenated. I slept 5 hours that first night. I woke in the dark and started to pack my sleep system. While packing Max and Eric Cutlip passed me. I eventually caught up to them and chatted with them a while. I rode the beautiful Cataract section pedaling harder then I would have ever imagined. It is truly a sight bringing your bike up to 13,000 feet. The views were unbelievable. I finally got to Spring Creek Pass and started the long, hot detour around La Garita Wilderness.
|Stony Pass sunset.|
I continued to leap frog with Max as we got scorched by the afternoon sun. We made it to Apples Camp and it was really a treat. I had heard about the legendary camp but had yet to experience it. It was just what I needed, a Coke, chips and shade. I didn’t stay long. I wanted to get past HWY 114 and get in towards Sargents Mesa before I would bivy up for a few hours. Both Max and I were counting on water from Razor Creek, but after further inspection we decide against filling our bottles with cow poop infested water. I was nearly out of water and knew I was going to need to detour to Baldy Lake. I road with Max until the sleep monster struck again. I contemplated continuing to Baldy Lake but decided to bivy up with Max. We slept 4 hours that night and it felt amazing.
The alarm sounded and before I knew it Max took off as I took my time getting my things packed up. I eventually got to Baldy Lake around 3:00am, filled up on water, and continued on to the infamous Sargents Mesa in the dark. Man, was I happy to do that section in the dark. Although I don’t believe it’s nearly as difficult going South to North, it is still so damn rocky. I stubbed my toe so many times that I would eventually bust up my left big toe pretty bad. The sun rose just as Sargents Mesa was behind me. Long descents, like the one to Tank Seven Creek, were starting to take a toll on my body. My feet were beginning to jam in my shoes and my arms became exhausted. After the long and steep hike-a-bike out of Tank Seven Creek, I finally arrived at Marshall Pass which was a welcoming sight as the area is so close to home.
I started to feel real good heading up the Crest Trail. I filled up on water and was ready for the heat of the day. All of a sudden, Travis Wildeboer came cruising by out of nowhere. He passed me so fast there was no time to chat, he was definitely on some sort of a mission. He continued on his fast pace and I followed, we would quickly pass Max making it the last time I would see him for the remainder of the race. I passed Travis on the way down Fooses, near the top, and had a blast on the 3,000 foot descent. It beat me up, but it was still a lot of fun. I stopped to eat some food just off Hwy 50 as Travis rolled up a few minutes later.
We got to chatting and Travis was trying to make it to the Buena Vista post office for a package pick up. It was already about noon and I told him I didn’t think it was very likely to make it before 5pm. He crunched some numbers, as he often would for the duration of the race. He knew it would be nearly impossible and slowed his roll. We chatted all the way from the Shavano Trailhead to Cottonwood Pass. Having someone to talk to made time pass, and I was really enjoying myself on the trail. It also did not hurt that this section of the trail is actually pretty fun and not that rocky. We stopped at the Princeton Hot Springs market quick for a snack and beverage before continuing on. It was a very warm day as most summer days are in the Banana Belt. While riding up the steep road we crossed paths with three southbound riders. It was nice to chat with those guys and get their perspective on the guys ahead. Having the opportunity to chat with other racers is something I will never take for granted.
We finally made it to Cottonwood Road as the sun was setting. Travis and I had planned to make our stay brief as we wanted to get as close to Twin Lakes as possible. We ordered some burgers and sandwiches from Jan’s, and went to City Market while the food was cooking. I loaded up on batteries for the rest of the trip and got a few extra Cliff bars and a Powerade. I went back to Jan’s, devoured my burger, which I loaded with mayonnaise, and stuffed my fried chicken sandwich for the next morning in my frame bag. After our 40 minute stop in Buena Vista we were on the road again, in the dark, in complete CTR bliss. The detour was fast, I really wanted to push the pace. I felt fantastic, Travis too, sometime during the detour Travis was wondering if we could catch Matt or Jerry. I said no way as I thought they would be pretty far ahead. I think that was great motivation however. We obviously did not want to get caught by Max but we felt we were going at a fast enough pace to catch those guys. We made it to the Clear Creek Reservoir as both of us became delirious. My goal was to push to the top of the initial climb and Travis followed. Not sure if he was seeing things or not but this was the only time I ever felt weird. I knew I would at some point, but it never got all that bad. We made it to the top and decided to bivy up in a clearing two miles into segment 11.
Details are hard to remember, but I think I woke up around 3:30am packed up my stuff quickly and got on my way. Night riding is difficult, but it’s a must in the CTR. The sleep really helped as I had a blast all the way to Twin Lakes. Before I knew it, the sun was starting to rise, and my spirits were high as a kite. One thing I never did on the Arizona Trail Race this April was listen to music. I decided to put in the ear buds for the climb up to Half Moon Road, and man I felt awesome. A little Bob Marley screaming in my ears was just what the doctor ordered. I quickly made it to Half Moon Road. I told Travis I was going to bypass Leadville as I felt I had plenty of food until Copper. He had plans of the same, not before we took a quick stop at the gas station off HWY 24.
At this point my knees started to hurt pretty bad. I became a bit worried but was still focused on the ultimate goal, so I told my knees to “shut up.” I climbed up to Wurts Ditch and eventually Tennessee Pass. I was in a funk and expected Travis to gain some time on me, once we reached the downhill and crossed HWY 24 again, I was resurrected. It’s funny how emotional a race like this can be. I still can’t believe what our bodies are capable of enduring. This was a key moment for me because I really wanted to stick with Travis, and my goal the rest of the way was to keep pace with him. Travis is used to these demands. He is an ultra marathon athlete and his body is trained for grueling races like this. We cruised past Camp Hale and started the long climb to Kokomo Pass. A perfect time for a storm, right? It would eventually dump buckets on us. Not only that but hail the size of nickels fell for a good half hour. The storm made the trail a flowing creek which made it slow moving. Lucky for us, just as we reached tree line the storm had pushed West. Behind the storm brought blue skys, which made the double pass of Kokomo and Searle possible without stopping. Travis took off and I again thought I would never catch him. I started my decent into Copper and to my surprise, ran back into Travis.
|Travis near the top of Gold Hill. We were truly blessed with the weather this afternoon.|
We biked through Copper Mountain Ski Area and made our way off route a bit to the gas station off HWY 91. I walked into the Conoco completely overwhelmed, it was not normal. I gathered my self and tried to remember what I needed… Ibuprofen!!!! My knees were really hurting and unfortunately I resorted to Vitamin I, as I like and stay away from pain meds. I got a few snacks, a coconut water, ordered two sandwiches to-go, and a meatball sub to scarf down quick. My stop was quick, but not as quick as Travis who was always ready to get back on the trail. This was a good thing as it made me hustle whenever I stopped. I made my way back to the trail stuffed but mentally prepared for the HAB up Gold Hill, I nearly hiked the whole way to the top. Luckily the weather had turned to clear skies, and it would last the whole duration of the steep climb. We made it above tree line as I stopped and soaked up the views. Every so often you need to stop and soak in the beauty, and remember how beautiful the Colorado Trail actually is. We made it to the top and started the long descent which turned my arms into Jello. The sun slowly faded just as we reached the the trailhead. Travis and I stopped to eat some food, layer up, and turn the lights back on. The last major climb was in our reach, Georgia Pass. At first the riding was fun, but my body soon shut down and needed to sleep. Travis felt the same way so we bivied up about 8 miles into segment 6. I shut my eyes, knowing this may be my last rest until the finish.
|Selfie near the top of Gold Hill|
|a typical section of the Coloraod Trail, Gold Hill.|
I woke up to the crushing sound of thunder as rain drops started to soak through the trees and onto my bivy. It was around 3am and I rushed to get all of my things packed before the rain saturated all of my stuff. Everything hurts, my ass, my knees, my upper body, my mind. It is always so difficult to get back on the saddle after a few hours of rest, especially this far into the race. I got moving a few minutes after Travis and started the long stretch up Georgia Pass. It was raining pretty consistently, making every root as slick as ice. It didn’t help that the Georgia Pass climb is a trail of roots. I reached for my sunglasses as rain started to get in my eyes. I usually kept them on my helmet, but when I reached for them, they were not there. I had been in such a rush to pack up my things that morning that I forgot my sunglasses on the ground. I was not happy. We finally made it to the top of the pass as another huge storm came whipping in from the West. I hurried to shelter myself near tree line as the rain really started to fall. Here I would layer up to prepare for the cold wet ride down Georgia Pass. I was freezing, my body hurt with every bounce from a root or a rock. After the pain of the century ended, we finally reached Kenosha Pass, filled up on water and were ready to embark on the unknown Teryall detour.
First we had 6 miles of unknown singletrack that I completely forgot about until it was in front of me. It went by fast and it was relatively fun. We then reached the famous Taryall detour. I now look at it in three parts. Part 1 being lots of ups and downs, a few turns here and there but very bland and uneventful. Part 2 started when Pat greeted me as we turned in to the Stage Stop “you Neil” he said. “Yeah” I responded. Pat was the owner of the bar and convenience store. He was completely into the race following us all on Trackleaders. He mentioned that there was some one right behind us. We went to his computer to find out it was Wayne Keith, who started his individual time trial on the 19th. I was happy to find out no one else was near us. I ordered a chicken sandwich and got a few items for the road. We thanked Pat and quickly got on our way as Wayne rolled in. He was excited as ever and pumped to finish the race, as was I.
|Travis on Wellington Road|
Part 2 continued until we were greeted by the construction crew. Just my luck, we missed the 10:30am opening and had to wait until 12:00pm. Travis and I were upset at the time because we thought it would hinder our sub 5 day finish. We took the time to sleep in the shade under a truck. Part 2 continued through the construction zone and through the town of Taryall. All in all it was not too bad. Part 3 however was the kicker. It started off fun, a nice climb, a nice descent, another nice climb, another nice descent. It was crazy to see how vast the Hayman burn area actually was. Soon the receptiveness of the climbs and descents became draining and before I knew it a storm with a consistent 35 MPH wind started entering our direct path. Before I knew it I was being pelted in the face and eyes by hail and rain. I really could have used my sunglasses right now. The storm didn’t slow us down however, as we knew the sub 5 day goal was in our grasps. It continued to rain all the way up Stony pass (the not so stony one), and all the way down to Wellington Road where segment 3 began. Taryall…Yes, it was longer then I could have imagined, yes, it was miserable for Part 3, yes, I voted against the detour, but looking back on it I can’t say it was the worst part of the CTR. I even remember Travis saying on one of the downhills how awesome it was.
|Me on Wellington Road.|
We started segment 3 as the rain finally came to a stop and the sun quickly set. We reached little Scaggy Trailhead. We were making good time and both Travis and I knew we had one more major climb left. We both made phone calls to our pickups stating we would be arriving at Waterton Canyon between 12:30 and 1:30am. We started segment 2 in hopes that it would be super buff singletrack, but with the rain the trail was slow moving. Travis and I talked the whole way down to the Platte River praising each others performances and talking about future plans. When we made it to the river, we sat and relaxed, for the first time there was no urgency. We chilled for about 10 minutes eating a lot of the extra food I was carrying and chatted with a friendly and curious police officer. At that moment I know I had done it, I could have walked the rest of the way and been happy with my performance.
We hopped back on our bikes and continued to talk. The climb was wet and cold but we quickly warmed up as our heart rate rose from the switchbacks. It seemed to last forever, but for some reason my body felt the best it did the whole race. It’s funny the way that works. I’m sure if it was not the final stretch I would have felt like crap. We made it to Lenny’s Rest and with one more final climb we knew we were home free. In the final stretch we decided to cross the finish together, it felt right. We arrived to the parking lot where each of our significant others greeted us. We had finished the CTR at 1:30am on Friday morning. Our final time was 4 days, 21 hours, and 30 minutes. Just like that, I stopped riding my bike and I was ready for a shower and a bed.
|Time for some pizza, a shower, and sleep!|
I started Mountain biking about three years now, and I would never have imagined getting this into it, and doing something this ridiculous on a bike. But this is reality, and I love every bit of it. While I was on the trail, I told myself I would never do this damn thing again. It is amazing how fast you forget all of the pain and suffering. My hand is currently not working, my knees are still killing me, and my back is as sore as ever. Bikepacking is my favorite way of traveling and I can’t wait for my next adventure.
I really need to thank everyone who supported me in this endeavor. My girlfriend Lindsay for picking me up at the trail head, and dealing with me working 70 hours a week this summer. Stew Gross for telling me I had what it took to race bikes, and of course for introducing me to Trackleaders. I was so into following those little blue dots, I told my self one day, Ill be a small blue dot myself! Rhett Griggs and Dave Ochs for giving me the opportunity to race on one of the best teams in Colorado. Its also pretty cool feeling being on the same team as Jefe, who has been a main inspiration for my bikepacking. Dave Wilson, thanks for the sweet Nuclear Sunrise Stitchworks saddle bag, and your advice on sleeping a lot early really paid off. I’m so stoked to be on Team Go (Griggs Orthopedics), Its a dream come true. Big thanks to The Alpineer my go to Crested Butte bike shop, SRAM (cant wait to be like Jefe with my new XX1, haha), Acli-mate best sports drink out there, Crested Butte Mountain Resort for employing me and for having some bomb singletrack, Rock and Roll Sports, The Go To Guide, Pike Builders, Elk Mountain Lodge, Rudy Project, High Mountain Concepts, Chucks Glass, and Squirt.