Multiday race reports, Trip Reports » Trucker Tales: CTR 2011
6:30 am, Waterton Canyon Trailhead
The race was preceded by lots of gear gawking and nervous chatter by 7o or so riders. The gear choices and pack combinations came in all sizes and shapes. From panniers to huge backpacks to nearly nothing at all; the whole gamut could be seen. The vibe was friendly and you could tell Colorado has a tight endurance community of racers. There were lots of high fives and hugs going around. Grassroots aside, these were racers. Most wore their team kits.
Not the Trucker (me) though, who was outfitted in his black shorts and thin wool jersey. No logos for the Trucker, he is his own brand.
The race “non-organizer”, Stefan gave a brief talk about the race and reminded riders to be true to the ethic of the race. Pointedly he said not to rely or plan on the trail angel, Apple, who has provided treats along the trail for the past few years. We were to do the course unsupported, no exceptions. The crowd collectively affirmed his statement, akin to an amen at the end of a sermon. All the racers were there to play hard and fair. Each rider was there to appease only one person, themself. Cheating in any form was self-defeating since you can’t run away from yourself.
The trail almost immediately turns to single track, so the the racers were broken into two groups; those planning to finish in five days or less (the fast group) and the rest. The first group started at 6:40 am and the rest began at 6:42.
The (2nd) start was remarkably un-race-like, and resembled a group-ride with lots of chatting and easy breathing. Within the first mile though racks broke and people crashed all the same. The trail was fairly tame but the crowd kept stopping at technical sections due to a few weak riders. Still no one complained, it was Rocky Mtn. traffic of the best kind. Every rider was probably thinking the same thing though, “If you’re having trouble riding this, what will you do on the hard sections?” Within an hour the group spread itself out sufficiently to prevent anymore traffic jams.
The section was hot and I probably fell behind on hydration. On a big climb my entire upper right leg began cramping. Front, back, top and bottom. I was forced off the bike several times just to stretch my leg out. I ended up lowering my seat by 1cm. and viola, my leg stopped cramping.
50 miles later I was in Bailey. It rained, then stopped. The next section was dirt road and then highway up to Kenosha pass. Pavement, but tough all the same. At the pass a few riders and I rested and agreed about the toughness of the pass. After the pass came more miles of awesome trail. eventually the trail climbed up to 11,000 feet and crossed Georgia pass. It was sunset and it was magnificent. A fellow rider and I raced daylight down the pass and we lost. We turned on our lights and finished the day at the first good spot, which was the North Fork of the Swan River. It was around 10 pm. I quickly cooked a hot meal and crawled into my bivvy. To my amazement, I wasn’t sleepy and I tossed and turned for a full hour before falling asleep.
I awoke, made coffee, ate granola and was riding by 4:15 am. I’ve fine tuned my cooking so that it is simultaneous with packing. I manage to have hot coffee and hot cereal without adding more than 10 minutes. As I’m clipping my last clip and strapping my last strap, I’m also taking my final sip of still hot coffee.
The day began with fun single track which quickly led to a closed section of trail. A hand written note from Stefan (how did he do that?) said to follow the posted detour and skip the next 4 miles of trail. Bummer. I wanted to ride the whole CT (sans wilderness) this part looked really fun to boot. As I came to the end of the detour I looked up at the closed area and saw lights. Did I mess up? Did I skip too much trail?What the @##$#!!? I spent the next few minutes agonizing about retracing my tracks. I had been careful about looking for and reading signs, but still I was second guessing myself. The race rules clearly state that you need to return to the spot you left the route before continuing. In the end I decided that I was more likely the get a DQ for riding a closed section than I was for making an honest effort at abiding the law. Furthermore, I thought to myself, “I don’t give a @#$# what anyone else says, I’m riding the CT as fast as I can regardless of asterixes or DQ.” (I later learned that the lights I saw were from riders ahead of me who had gotten to the closed section before Stefan put a note there. They had ignored the closed sign out of the desire to ride all of the CT. In their defense I’ll say this; it was night and no tree felling was occurring. So the reason for closing the trail was not even present. They lucked out in my opinion, although they broke a race rule by breaking the law.)
The morning was filled with sweet trail that led into the notorious 10-mile Range. This section was crazy steep and rocky and long. I climbed and pushed my bike for ages up to 12,400 feet. The top was sunny and nice. Then the trail ripped down to the other side. Super fast and fun with a few steep rocky sections thrown in for good measure. My face began to hurt from grinning. Too soon I reached the bottom and Copper Mountain Resort.
I rested and called the family on my cell phone. Feeling restored I bypassed the resort food and kept plugging for Leadville. I had a double pass to get through before Leadville and as I climbed higher and higher the skies darkened. As I reached Searl Pass I encountered some very aggressive Marmots and then it began to rain lightly. There was no thunder or lightning so I pressed on to Kokomo pass, also at 12,000 feet. The descent in the rain was cold and aggravated the nerves in my hands. Every big bump was like getting tazered in the hands. As I reached the bottom, the sun came back out and my layers came off.
I wanted to reach Leadville badly and kept pushing without rest. I could not do it. At a totally random spot I pulled over and laid out all my gear to dry in the sun as I cooked a hot lunch. Within 20 minutes the clouds were back and I packed up for the final miles to Leadville. I rode through light rain for the next two hours as I rode to Leadville. About 15 miles from Leadville someone had left a box of trail magic. I grabbed a pack of Ho Ho’s without even dismounting and wolfed them down as I rode. As became the norm, the final miles until my stop destination were harder than they looked on paper and I rolled into Leadville around 8pm. The weather forecast was for more rain throughout the night. With that news, I decided to get a room for the night. F.Y.I. the Mountain Peaks Motel is cheap but skanky.
The day began early, I was riding again by 4 am or so. I rode the detour in the dark and arrived at the trail head at first light. This was perfect since my lighting was adequate for only dirt/paved roads. Dawn on epic single-track, again. The next miles were surprisingly fast and flowy, with breathtaking and endless descents. I missed a turn or two, eating-up some time but providing scenic opportunities. Along the way I caught two CTR riders and we spun along together. I enjoyed their company but our paces didn’t match up and I soon fell behind them. The segment took a lot longer than expected, maintaining a theme for the week. Things ended with uncharacteristic smooth and buffed trail…downhill! Miles and miles of of it. Along the way my better handlebar light rattled off.
Next came a detour into Buena Vista; the route dropped out of the mountains and provided vast views of the Rockies. The town is aptly named…though the locals call it ’Boona’ Vista (speak Spanish much?). Soon I was in Buena Vista. I arrived in the company of another racer and followed him to the sporting goods store for a resupply. I purchased a huge bag of food stuffs. I thought I was buying more than enough food to get me to Silverton, some 200 trail miles away. I also replaced my lost light for $50.
Next I got a burger, soda, and fries with a togo burrito. And two miles later I was off the bike digesting. When my gut and my legs fight over blood supply…the gut wins. I sat with a million dollar view and watched several riders pass me.
Eventually I got back on trail and (of course) it was amazing, jaw dropping stuff. I went by Princeton Hot Springs and came upon a fresh mudslide which had closed the road (to cars). The slide had happened within the hour. Only one set of tracks were visible scrambling around the mess. It was amazing that such a huge storm had preceded me and I only experienced sunshine. Soon I was back on trail. Things were getting tough at this point and my objective for the day (HWY 50) was looking less and less likely. The trail would swoop and flow nicely and then drop into a deep gully. These gullies were a challenge to simply carry the bike through. As darkness approached I arrived at the “Angel of Shavano” campground. It had a toilet and a shelter, I was sold. Laying in my bag I fell asleep watching the lights of fellow racers weave and bob their way up the nearby ridge.
On my bike by 4 am again I rode like I had some sort of palsy. My arms had no finesse, instead I oversteered again and again. I pin balled my way along the trail until highway 50. Here I passed eight or so sleeping racers. The next section of trail was unbelievable. A long wooded climb up Fooses Creek culminated in a crazy steep hike-a-bike up to Marshall Pass…and nirvana. It is a magical place with amazing views in all directions and a serpentine trail weaving along the ridge line. Naturally there was ripping descent with a mix of fast and technical trail.
As I began the next climb I chose to stop and investigate a noise my bike was making. I discovered my break-pads were worn to the nub. No problem I thought, I have extra pads. I pulled off both wheels, dug out the spare pads…and learned that I required a 2.5 mm hex. I had only a 2mm. Doh!
Bags repacked, wheels back on, I pushed on. Even worn to the nub, my brakes worked well enough. As I climbed one the more moderate but still high passes I was hit by a wave of fatigue so powerful it could not be ignored. I stumbed off the trail and spread out my tarp . Laying out my pack as my pillow sat and leaned back into it when CRACK-BOOM thunder exploded nearby. Suddenly I was no longer tired. Within seconds I was back on my bike and pedaling hard!. The thunder continued and it began to rain. I pushed hard through the high pass and soon the clouds were behind me.
I stopped along a high ridge for a hot lunch trailside. Lunch with a view. My plan was to rest, eat, and wait for someone to ride by with a 2.5 mm wrench. It didn’t work, people passed me, but none with the right wrench. I did manage to accidentally ignite a fallen log with my stove, exciting times.
I worked my way onward to a nice stream and found a rider with the right wrench. He was just leaving so I only replaced my front pads. Ah….the quiet was nice.
The next section, Sargents Mesa, is notoriously hard on the psyche. I loaded up on water in case I couldn’t complete it by nightfall. With a full load of water I was weighed down but totally flexible. I could stop anywhere I pleased. The mesa turned out to be tough but doable. Super rocky and chunky, but with amazing views peaking through the trees and occasionally ridable trail. As if by design, I reached the fun descent at dusk and zipped down to the end of the section and MAGIC. It is here that a trail angel has set up a shelter and a tent. And it was stocked with soda and junk-food. Free! A few racers were lounging around, slowed by a slashed tire on the mesa. I bid them farewell as they rode into the dark. At this point I came to terms with just how far I still had to go until I reached Silverton. In a food-panic, I ate an additional 6 Oreos and bag of chips. I slept in the tent and listened to a few riders pass in the dark.
I was up around 5am and tip-toed around a racer who was sleeping under the shelter. I brewed coffee and ate granola while packing my bike. The routine was so refined by now that it was like I was my own pit crew. And as I did each morning, I relished the normalcy of coffee and cereal at the start of the day.
I rode off into the dark and within a few miles I “lost’ the trail. It was a place where the trail crossed a highway and my GPS showed me as really close. Lacking a bright light, I rode in circles examining the roadside. Eventually I caught a flash of reflection. It was a racer bivvied at the trailside. Thank you reflectors!
Dawn broke with me surrounded by wildflowers and endless vistas.
The CT was finally exacting its toll on my feet. I was developing something painful on my right heel. Upon examination I saw it was not a blister. Instead it was raw spot where the trail-grit in my sock was grinding its way through my skin. Hoping it wasn’t too late I used my first aid kit to encase my heel.
The trail turned into a double track and led into high open meadows. I descended at speed, awed by the hugeness of the views. I was relaxed, cruising fast and drinking in the views. Then my focus adjusted to the near and I saw a wire fence blocking the road. I had too much speed. Even with excellent traction, good technique and new tires I realized that I wasn’t going to stop in time. I pitched out my back tire to kill more speed and dove off my bike. When the dust settled I still had nearly 10 inches to spare. The front end of my bike was up against the fence. Luck smiled on me and my tires had avoided the barbed parts of the fence. With my focus in the distance the wire fence had been invisible to me. A single piece of flagging would have made the wire visible, but nothing was on it at all.
All too soon I reached the biggest detour of the CT. I had close to 50 miles of dirt road to cover. As a newbie to Colorado, it provided great views and was not unpleasant. However, the constant seated riding took its toll and my butt hurt badly. Before getting back on trail I loaded up on water. Again I was flexible, I could stop anytime, water source or not. The weather had been threatening all afternoon. As I reached the trailhead, the skies cleared for a blue bird afternoon of riding.
I climbed up above the tree-line and stayed up there for the rest of the day. Coney Pass is a vast open series of passes, each one a little higher than the last. Naturally a rider cannot see this. Instead each one looks like the final climb, then it isn’t. At one point the trail was so steep and rocky, I was hoisting my bike up over my head and placing it on the next piece of trail. All the while, the trail stayed at 13,000 feet of elevation. I had many opportunities to savor the views as I caught my breath every few steps.
I reached the true pass at sunset and savored the glorious views before a fast and steep descent. As the light faded I found a perfect campsite (aside from having water access). I slept under the stars with a half moon illuminating the massive peaks which enveloped me.
I overslept and awoke at dawn. The following miles stayed high as I worked my way over to Stony Pass. The trail was tough and slow. I soon realized my food was not going to last. One of the lumps in my bag turned out to be packets of Emergen-Cee drink mix and not one last cliff bar, as I had presumed. Never-the-less I enjoyed to miles.
From Stony Pass it is 3,000 feet of dirt road descent to Silverton. Using only my front brake was not an option so I endured loud scraping noises from my rear brake all the way to Silverton. Once in town I found the market and ate, and ate. I hung around the market for awhile eating and shopping. Next I went searching for a 2.5 mm wrench and ran into a racer, Jesse, who I’d been leap-frogging for the whole race. He lent me his tool and I was set. My combination of physical and mental fatigue made the task fairly tough. Eventually I got it right and proceeded up to Molas Pass to rejoin the CT.
Again I loaded up on water, trading the cost of a heavy load for flexibility. The trail was fairly tame by CT standards. Rolling and climbing. At one point I was zipping down a straight-away and BAM! I was sent flying over my bars into a superman landing (imagine a plane landing with its gear still up). I lay stunned and unmoving. I knew immediately that I had escaped serious injury. I just lay there thinking. My main thought was , I’m O.K. but I bet my bike is broken. “That’s it I thought…the end…@@#$#!!” But before even looking at my bike, I walked up the trail to find my undoing. It was so smooth and straight…how? what? Then I saw it, a pedal troll lurking beneath a little bushy bit beside the trail. It looked just like a shadow being cast by the bush. My peripheral vision hadn’t caught it and in my fatigued state I had probably been standing on my left pedal.
Even better, I found my bike more or less intact. Bars askew, seat crooked and GPS clip broken. My leg looked as though I was smuggling a golf ball across the rockies. My right quad had landed on something hard and dully pointed. My right thigh had a mark/bruise suspiciously similar to the shape of my GPS. “I am one lucky @#%$-@&#&&@&er” was what I said to myself, aloud…repeatedly.
As I rode on (what else would I do!) I chanted to myself “I’ve had worse charlie horses from my brothers…aint nothin’. The hypnosis worked and I more or less forgot about my injuries for the remainder of the journey.
I managed to catch another amazing sunset on a high pass before riding onward towards Bolam Pass. At this point my mental state was really poor. Even with my GPS in hand, I was losing the trail. At one point I was pearched at the top of fantastic looking descent. I was hungry so I plopped down into the tundra for a sandwich. Curious about my elevation, I pulled out my GPS and saw that I was off the route! If I hadn’t stopped to eat, I would have descended the wrong side of the mountain. Less than a 1/4 miles earlier I had misread a sign a gone off route. I back tracked and once again reached an amazing pass at sunset. I raced darkness down the other side and made it to the end of the segment by nightfall.
Riding at night was tough. My weak light and exhaustion combined to make even obvious clues obscured in the dark. Wisdom ruled the day (or night in my case) and I camped in the parking area of little lake. As I lay in my bivvy, that same rider, Jesse, came rolling by. We chatted for a minute before he rolled off into the darkness. I watched him go and was sure he was going the wrong way. Wisely I bit my tongue.
When I woke at first light I clearly saw the trail….exactly where Jesse had gone.
The final day
I had overslept but still could not manage to rush. I rode with too many stops. Without my GPS unit visible, my navigation confidence was low and I found myself double-checking the route too often. I realized that I had become too dependent on the device. Chastened, I stashed the GPS away and focused on keeping my head up and my brain ‘on’. I climbed one last last high ridge to one last pass. Naturally I misjudged the pass and gave my farewell speech to the high country over an hour early. I even included a salute (fist in the air). Silly me….an hour of climbing and rolling still awaited me before I would descend into the lower elevations.
When I did finally reach the descent I was wasted. I walked all the technical steep stuff and then some. When I reached the trailhead for the final segment, it was all I could do to find a spot of shade and collapse into it. My food supply consisted of two fig newtons and the cookie dust at the bottom of the bag. Ravenously I poured the contents into my mouth, frustrated that even a single crumb escaped. I came around to my senses enough to know that the sooner I could finish , the better. I remounted my bike and rounded the corner to find a racer starting the segment at the exact same moment. It was crazy that after so many miles we were entering the final segment at the same time. The other racer and I hadn’t seen each other for two days. He was a stronger rider but obviously stopped for long breaks. Whenever we had been together he had pedaled away from me, but here we were again. Naturally he pedaled away again at this point.
I was hungry and tired. As I dropped elevation, I took on a new challenge…heat. Once below 10,000 feet the temperature rose enough to hurt. The final segment sounds so easy, twenty-one miles with a net loss of over 5,000 feet. It was not easy. But it was mostly fun. The CT is so great it compensates for hunger, exhaustion, hyperthermia, numb hands and roasted butt. All the same, I was quite pleased to reach its terminus. No one greeted me. No one clapped. A random lady asked me if I had just finished the race. ‘Cool’ was all she offered in reply. None of that mattered. I pulled out my only time piece (my GPS) and noted the time; 6:45pm. I had completed the CT in 6 days and 12 hours.
I rode into town and wandered around until I found pizza and beer. Then straight to Baskin Robbins for ice-cream. Finally with a bonus beer in the bag, I got a room for the night.