8 Days 5 Hours 16 Minutes
That's how long it took me to complete the Colorado Trail Race. Good for 30th place and a big fat smile on my face that will last until I get to make the first turns of the season. Everyone wants to know what it was like. Pictures help. So do stories. But they all seem to fall short for some reason.
Maybe it's because you can't get through something like the CTR without changing as a person, and that's a tough thing to put into words. For me, this was my first mulit-day ultra-marathon that I completed. It wasn't about the distance (496 miles), or the elevation gain (65,000'). It was about digging deeper into myself than I've ever gone before. Physically. Mentally. Spiritually. The Elk Mountains Grand Traverse is - for me - more dangerous, but the multiday nature of the CTR forced me to strengthen nearly everything about myself.
There's a commercial out now for running shoes that says something like "strong is what's left when you use up all your weak" - man that just hits home.
I ran out of weak just below the pass on the west side of the ten mile range. I went over the bars and landed on my arm. HARD. Not knowing if it was broken or not, I laid there, face down, way above tree line, in the rain, scared. As soon as I had my wits about me I saw that my left arm was bleeding pretty badly. I could see a little yellow and deep red in the wound. Fat and muscle. Awesome! So I grab my first aid kit, clean up the wound and get it bandaged. I also learn that there are 2 deep bruises on my left quad that screams at me every time the muscle contracts. But I still have to get down this mountain before the storm hits! With over 30 hours of racing behind me, I was pretty wrecked, this was going to be hard.
Back on the bike I realized I can't grip the handlebar with full strength, in fact, I'm only about 50%, maybe even just 40%. This is pretty serious descent on a 4 inch travel bike and my confidence is shot. I'd rather not crash again and I definitely don't want to re-learn how scary lightning storms are. So I put my tail in between my legs and start pushing my bike.
With almost no confidence, I stick with the plan and make it down to the Conoco at Copper so that I can eat and re-stock my food supplies - sometimes pushing, sometimes riding. Each bump makes my arm hurt to point where I can barely hold the grip. The folks at Conoco were great! They knew about the race and were quick to help out with NOAA weather reports on their laptop and kind words of encouragement. There's one more burst of rain, but once these clouds role through it looks like we've got a pretty nice window, maybe enough to get to Camp Hale?
A little more inspired I get back on my bike and start heading up to Searle Pass. I'm moving so slowly! My quad hurts on the uphill. My arm hurts on the downhill. And my lack of confidence has me gingerly rolling along the trail at turtle speed. All the demons start talking in my head. All the doubt starts flooding my brain. I'm just wrecked. Maybe I just need a little break? Will a couple of hours of sleep pull me out of this funk? It's worth a shot. So I pull out the ground cloth and sleeping bag and promptly fall a sleep in 0.2 seconds.
I wake up 20 minutes later to rain. REALLY? Where's that big window of weather I saw on the NOAA radar? I'm just not ready to start moving again so I pull out the emergency bivy and huddle in the deepest corner of my sleeping bag and fall back to sleep. A couple hours of shut eye later (8pm) I wake up to a full on rain storm and my down sleeping bag is getting wet. Note much to do now but start moving. I pack everything up and get back on the bike. My rain gear seems to be working well, but I just can't stay on the bike. My legs don't have enough strength for this climb in the dark and my coordination is off. I keep stumbling on every rock and root, and there's lots of them. I'm spending more energy trying to stay on the bike them I am on upward progress. So I start pushing the bike. My left quad hurts with each step and my left arm is just plain weak. And it turns out my neoprene shoe covers aren't waterproof, at least my feet are warm. I just put my head down and push my bike through the rain and the dark for the next 2 hours.
Finally the rain stops and I can stop. I need some sleep. I've had about 6 hours of sleep/rest and I've been racing for 40 hours. I don't want to get my down bag wetter so I slip into the emergency bivy and fall asleep. A couple hours later I wake up... with hypothermia. I've go the shivers badly enough to know that I've got to do something about this now. I try starting a fire, but everything is so wet that it's not going to happen without a serious effort. So I open the sleeping bag and wrap myself in it and just stand there until the shivers are gone. MMMMMMMMM warmth. Down makes me happy. OK - an hour later with the shivers gone what should I do? Sleep? Or continue on? I simply don't have the cajones to try riding right now. Weak arm, bruised quad, bad night time coordination, and I just recovered from hypothermia... I'm no hardcore dude, I'm just trying to survive the night. So I slip the wet down bag into the wet bivy and fall asleep knowing that I'm gonna have to deal with drying everything out later.4'ish am
- OK I made it through the night. What now? Do I dare continue? Do I really have what it takes to finish this beast? I could roll down the mountain and be eating breakfast at the log cabin in Frisco in 2 hours. Damn. Dropping out again? Really? No more strength. Period. I'm done. There's nothing left. Wet. Hungry. Sad from memories of losing my pup Homer this past spring. Missing my wife and daughter. Basically I'm manifesting all things pathetic in a single moment of life. How glum is this?Screw it!
I can still put one foot in front of the other, I'll figure out pedaling later. Time to re-program my brain and get on with this race.
By 7:30am my gear was dry(er), packed, and I was pushing my bike up to Searle Pass. The sun was out. The sky was blue. I was warm and life was getting better. At some point I even got back on the bike and started riding again. I had just learned what the word strength really means. It's not what you are when everything is going your way, when you are full of confidence and ready to win. Strength is that force inside that helps you take one more step when all other forces in the universe are trying to keep you from doing just that. Like the commercial says, "strength is what's left when you've used up all your weak."
6 mornings later I would end up in Durango. Charging down the final slopes with a shit eating grin on my face, many pounds lighter, with an animal like glow in my eyes.
Check out the slide show Bob made for me. Pictures are from a both 2011 and 2009 when I road the trail with support from Jen and Homer. It' a big file, so be patient while it downloads:http://spedden.com/wp-admin/spedden.com/CTR-2011.m4v